Definition of Check Fraud in California

Check Fraud can be applied in the following four ways and is considered forgery in the state of California:

  • I. Any person who makes, passes, utters, or publishes fictitious or altered bills, notes or checks with the intent to defraud any other person is guilty of forgery. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 476.)
  • II. Any person with the intent to defraud any other person who attempts to pass, utter, or publish fictitious or altered bills, notes or checks is guilty of forgery. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 476.)
  • III. Any person who has in their possession with the intent to defraud another person in uttering, passing, or publishing any fictitious or altered bill, note or check purporting to be the bill, note, or check, or any other instrument in writing for the payment of money is guilty of forgery. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 476.)
  • IV. Any person who has in their possession with the intent to defraud another in uttering, passing, or publishing any fictitious or altered bill, note or check purporting to be the bill, note, or check, or any other instrument in writing for the payment of money or property of any real or fictitious financial institution is guilty of forgery. (Cal. Pen. Code, § 476.)

Helpful Definitions and Additional Information:

Uttering: “Utter” means to distribute or offer under the pretense that it’s genuine (real).

Types of check fraud include: forgery, counterfeiting and alteration, paperhanging, or check kiting.

In Other Words…

Check Fraud is considered a forgery in the state of California, which is the process of adapting, creating, or imitating documents to deceive in order to obtain a payment of money or property of any financial institution. Any person who commits check fraud must have the “want” (intent) to defraud another by purporting that the document is real. Any person can be convicted of check fraud by attempting a forgery.

Examples of Check Fraud:

Signing the name of another or made up name on a bill, note, or check

Altering check amounts, dates, or routing numbers

What the Prosecutor Must Prove

THE ACT

  • The defendant attempts, distributes, cashes, offers, passes, or publishes a fictitious (fake) or altered bill, note or check for the payment of money or property; and

THE INTENT

  • The defendant knows the bill, note, or check to be fictitious or altered; and
  • The defendant has the intent to defraud another; and when proved to have possession of document
  • Purports the bill, note or check to be genuine (real).
    • ✓ Check Fraud is a “specific intent offense,” meaning one can only be convicted of check fraud if the prosecutor proves not only the act, but also proves that the intent by the defendant was to defraud another. The prosecutor must prove both.

Helpful Definitions and Additional Information:

Intent: resolved or determined to do something wrong or forbidden by law. “The act does not make a person guilty unless the mind is also guilty.” -Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea

Defenses to Check Fraud

Lack of Intent

In order for the defendant to be convicted, there must be the “want” or “intent” to defraud someone. If there is a failure to prove this, then the defendant cannot be convicted.

This includes an unawareness of passing a fraudulent check as a means for a defense because one did not know that the check was forged once it was given to them.

Consent

If the defendant had permission to alter a note, bill, or check, then they cannot be held liable for the forgery.

Identity Theft/Mistaken Identity

One cannot be held liable for forgery if someone else uses their name to forge a bill, note, or check.

Punishment for Check Fraud

The defendant can be charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the facts of the case and criminal history. In other words, it is a “wobbler.”

  • Felony Check Fraud is punishable by between 16 months to three years in state prison and up to a $10,000 fine
  • Misdemeanor Check Fraud is punishable by up to one year in county jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
    • ✓ Prior prison time within the past five years may add additional time.

Collateral Consequences for Check Fraud

The consequences of a conviction for check fraud may be drastic depending on the individual circumstances because it is equated with one’s honesty. If discovered on a criminal record check, it could lead to one losing their job or having a difficult time finding a job.

Immigration Consequences for Check Fraud

Check fraud is a crime of moral turpitude and may be considered an aggravated felony under the immigration laws of the United States. Non-citizens convicted of check fraud are subject to deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization pursuant to the laws of the United States.

Therefore, if you are not a U.S. citizen it is critical that you speak to a knowledgeable criminal/immigration attorney about your specific immigration status, your current criminal case, and your entire criminal history, to find out what effect your criminal case may have on your immigration status.