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What Is Check Fraud?


Even though check writing is becoming a lost art with the rise of technology and money sharing services such as PayPal, Venmo, and Google Wallet, check fraud is still a very real offense. Also called passing bad checks, check fraud involves a bank account having insufficient funds. While Penal Code 476 also deals with forgery or altering checks, check fraud is more specifically when a person knows that an account does not have adequate funds but they choose to write it anyway.

Check fraud cases are often initiated by an investigator for a private company. The investigator gathers evidence and passes it on to the government. The cases are strongly pursued by the prosecutor if there is sufficient evidence of a crime. The amount involved in each case even when small can have serious consequences for anyone’s personal and professional life. The crime can be a felony fraud case or misdemeanor; also known as a wobbler.

How The Laws Differ

The Case of Jim: Jim writes a check to pay for groceries but uses a check from an account he knows to have a zero balance. Jim can be arrested and charged with criminal fraud under CA PC 476(a).

The Case of Alex: In a crossover case involving both CA PC 476 and 476(a) let's imagine that Alex prints up several fake checks that list a fake bank account. If Alex signs and attempts to use these checks to purchase goods or services a prosecutor can charge him with both crimes: check fraud and passing of bad checks.

Fraud defense lawyer George Gedulin knows that any criminal charge is a shock that can throw you into a state of panic and fear. We give clients experience and diligence when dealing with criminal fraud allegations. Being charged with a crime does not make someone a criminal. The greatest asset a criminal defense lawyer can be for his or her client is that of an experienced counselor. Knowing every possibility and player involved in each case. Working with the same Judges and Prosecutors every day creates a unique perspective on how cases can be won no matter what the facts.

White Collar Crimes Defense

Fraud allegations like check fraud are filed by a specific group of prosecutors who only work on white-collar crimes. It is critical to the success of any defense that the attorney knows who is on the other side of a case and how they think. The resources of government to seek convictions for economic crimes is large and weighed heavily in their favor. Every criminal fraud defense has to start with an intimate knowledge of the courts, judges, and strategies used by the prosecution. Knowing the law and prosecutors involved in every criminal case is essential to presenting the strongest defense.

What Exactly is Check Fraud?

In prosecuting a check fraud case there are three things that the district attorney must prove for a guilty verdict:

  • Creating or writing a bad check and attempting to cash it or exchange for value
  • Having the knowledge that the account you are trying to withdraw funds from has insufficient funds or is a non-existent bank account
  • You take these actions with knowledge and are trying to defraud another person or institution

Other offenses that are also charged in cases involving bad checks include Theft (CA pc 484) and Grand Theft (CA PC 487).

Criminal Fraud Defense

Assembling all available evidence and discovery in a fraud crime defense can take weeks or months. The efficient use of investigators to look at the evidence the prosecutor has is the first key in building a strong defense. A defendant who did not intend to commit fraud or wrote a bad check in good faith cannot be convicted of violating PC 476(a). This defense however is complicated and requires significant investigation to create a plausible story for a jury and the court.

An honest mistake does not make someone a criminal. If you are charged with passing a bad check that you believed to be legitimate then you have a complete defense to the charge. Our firm has obtained dismissals of cases where the client had attempted to deposit a bad check from a third party with no knowledge that the account was fake or had no funds available.

Consent to alter a check is also a common instance where the prosecutor accuses a defendant of a crime where in fact no criminal act took place. Altering a name or amount on a check with the consent of the person who wrote it is not a crime.

Consequences of Conviction

As with any case of white-collar crime the dollar amount matters. The prosecutors who deal with most fraud cases are unique in that they receive additional funding based on how much money they recover for alleged victims.

Private companies and banks who seek to get back money lost to check fraud or other crimes are assisted by the government in recovering losses. With a portion of the prosecution’s office funding coming from these cases the pressure to maximize the restitution is enormous. Unless the allegations of fraud are for less than $450 the case will be filed as a Felony. Similar to theft cases if the total value of the checks was under $450 the charge will be a misdemeanor. While a misdemeanor conviction brings fines of up to $1,000 and no more than 1 year in jail a Felony conviction is much more serious. Felony convictions can mean years in state prison and fines up to $10,000.

At a minimum, a felony conviction can involve sentencing to state prison from 16 months up to 3 years. Restitution fines equal to the amount of the alleged theft for using fraudulent checks.

View the Types of Fraud Cases We Specialize In