What is Check Fraud? And What to Do If You’re Accused 

Although the number of checks collected each year has steadily declined since 2000 due to the proliferation of online bill pay, check fraud is seeing a resurgence. It is a low-tech, relatively easy crime to pull off, but one that can have severe consequences. Keep reading to learn more about check fraud and what to do if you’re accused of it. 

What is Check Fraud? 

Check fraud is the use of paper or digital checks to illegally gain money. This can be carried out by forging an account holder’s signature on a stolen check, altering a legitimate check by changing the amount or the payee, or writing a counterfeit check for an unauthorized person or non-existent account. 

The use of checks goes way back to ancient times, but drastically increased in popularity during the Middle, and especially Colonial, Ages when trade spread. Checks provided a convenient way to carry large sums of money unlike bags of coins which were heavy to carry and easy to steal. Because many of the first checks were basically handwritten forms of IOUs, check fraud was rampant even then. 

The modern check, with printed numbers on each check, was created by the Bank of England in 1717. The very young United States followed in 1784 when the Bank of New York started printing checks. To prevent fraud, more personal information like full names along with binding checks into a book was used. However, check fraud was still widespread. 

Although many technological advances have been put in place to thwart check fraud, it is still a popular crime which cost the United States $8.8 billion in losses in 2022 (an increase of 44% from 2021). 

Types of Check Fraud 

Check fraud can be carried out in a number of ways, here are some of the most common forms of check fraud: 

  • Check Kiting: This type of fraud involves writing bad checks and using multiple accounts. One example would be writing a bad check from Bank A and then temporarily covering that amount by writing a bad check from Bank B and depositing it into Bank A.
  • Check Washing: Stealing a check from a mailbox and using chemicals to wash the ink off of the check. A new amount or addressing the check to themselves is written in by the criminal and then deposited in their own account. 
  • Check Cooking: This type of fraud is similar to check washing, but more advanced. A criminal scans the check and uses software to alter the check before printing it out and depositing it. 
  • Check Theft and Forgery: Instead of altering a stolen check, criminals may steal or print blank checks and then forge a signature. 

No matter what form of check fraud is used, the consequences if caught by law enforcement are serious. Depending on the value of the fraud and who the target is, check fraud can be considered a felony or a misdemeanor crime. 

Penalties for Check Fraud

When someone commits check fraud, they face a range of penalties from jail time to fines, to paying restitution to their victims. As is the case with many crimes, the more severe and greater the amount of money fraudulently taken, the more extreme the consequences. Most check fraud cases are considered state crimes, but some fall under federal jurisdiction. 

In New Jersey, a bad check worth less than $200 is considered a disorderly person’s offense which could lead to a $1000 fine and 6 months in jail. If the value of the bad check is between $200-$1000, it is considered a felony in New Jersey and is punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and 18 months in prison. If a bad check is less than $75,000, fines could reach $15,000 and five years in prison; and for any bad check over $75,000, the punishment is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $150,000. 

No matter how severe the infraction is when it comes to check fraud, if convicted, you will have a criminal record for the rest of your life. That is why it is so important to know what to do if you’re accused of check fraud. 

Accused of Check Fraud? 

If you’ve been accused of check fraud, the first thing you should do is find a criminal defense attorney with white collar crime experience. The attorney’s at the Law Offices of Robert J. DeGroot have decades of experience defending clients with check fraud accusations against them. Contacting us quickly will ensure that we can explain the charges against you and immediately start to build a defense for you. 

It is important to remember that even though you’ve been charged with a crime, you have the same rights as anyone else. You have the right to remain silent, and should do so until you’ve spoken with your attorney. The more information you provide to us, the better we will be able to help craft solutions to the charges. 

A conviction of check fraud in New Jersey can lead to some very expensive and serious consequences. Give yourself the opportunity to avoid these harsh penalties by enlisting the help of the experienced team of attorneys at the Law Offices of Robert J. DeGroot. 

Have you or someone you know been accused of check fraud? Contact the Law Offices of Robert J. DeGroot today for expert advice on what to do next!