Under California law, it is a criminal offense to commit check fraud. The California Penal Code 476 PC outlines the crime of check fraud. You may face fraud charges if you make, possess, or use a check intending to defraud the payee. Other than having the intent to defraud the payee, you reveal the plan/intent by presenting the check as authentic/genuine. You may face fraud for attempting to make or use a check with the intent to commit fraud even if your efforts do not succeed. Under California law, a check fraud crime attracts hefty penalties. If you or your loved one is facing criminal charges for committing check fraud, California Criminal Lawyer Group can help you fight the charges in court.

Overview of Check Fraud under California Law

Recently, check frauds occur with more frequency than before. People take advantage of sophisticated but affordable technology like publishing software, computers, and scanners to make fraudulent checks. In the United States, check fraud is one of the most prominent forms of fraud. Even a genuine document may become false through false writings. The same case applies to checks; you can commit check fraud by signing fictitious or unauthorized names on a check. Therefore, the crime of check fraud does not only include making fraudulent checks. It also involves writing false information on a valid check.

There are many ways of committing check fraud in California. For instance, you may face fraud charges if you falsify the name of the payee on the check. You may also face fraud charges if you change the dollar amount on the check. If you generate a fake check and present it as genuine, you may face charges under California law.

California law defines a check fraud using broad terms. According to the law, you commit a check fraud if you make, write, pass, possess, attempt to make, try to write, or attempt to give/pass an altered, forged, or fake check. For all these actions, the intent is the same; to acquire cash, services, or property using the fraudulent check.

Check fraud is a crime under the vast category of fraud crimes in California. If you commit check fraud, you will face similar penalties as the crime of forgery. Several elements of a check fraud exist, and for the prosecutor to charge you with check fraud, he/she has to prove the elements of the crime.

First, the prosecutor has to prove that they are guilty of passing, possessing, or attempting to make or pass a fake, altered, or counterfeit check. It must also be evident that at the time of committing the offense of passing or possessing, you were aware that the check was altered or fictitious. The prosecutor must prove that you had the intent of defrauding an entity or a person. The prosecutor must also prove that you represented the fake or altered check as genuine.

A counterfeit/fictitious check refers to a fake check. A check may be false or fictitious if you draw it from a non-existent bank. A check may also be fictitious if a person who does not exist endorses the check. On the other hand, you can alter a check when you erase, change, or add to a part of the check. Altering makes a check to appear different from its first original form. By altering a check, you not only change its appearance, but you also change the apparent legal effect of the check. You may modify/alter a check by adjusting the amount written on it. For instance, you may edit a check reading $200, and by adding an extra digit, you make the check read $2,000. You may be guilty of altering a check if you modify or change the date on the check. For instance, if you have a post-dated check, you may bump its date. Other ways of altering a check include changing the check number or the routing number of the check.

Intention to commit fraud is a crucial element of a check fraud case. You may have the intent to commit fraud if you intend to trick or deceive another person and take his/her money or other property. It is important to note that when considering a check fraud offense, it does not matter whether another person suffered the loss. The only important aspect is your intent. Therefore, if it is evident that you had the intent to commit check fraud, you will face charges even if the victim did not lose any money or property. If the prosecutor can prove that you intended to make an unfair or unlawful gain, the results of your actions are not significant.

What does representing the check as authentic/genuine mean? Representation is the core intent of the crime of check fraud. You may present a check as valid in various ways. For instance, the presentation may be direct or indirect. For example, you may submit/present a check as genuine by words or by conduct. Making a representation means attempting to use an altered or a fake check. Representation is a simple element a check fraud crime for the prosecutor to prove.

Consequences for Committing a Check Fraud

The crime of check fraud falls under California forgery laws, and if you commit this crime, you will face the consequences under California forgery laws. California law classifies a forgery crime as a wobbler offense. A wobbler means that if you commit check fraud, you may either face felony or misdemeanor charges. Whether the prosecutor charges the crime as a misdemeanor or a felony will depend on several factors. First, the prosecutor will consider the facts surrounding the forgery case or the nature of your offense. The prosecutor will also consider your criminal history. If you are a repeat offender, you are likely to face felony charges, but most first-time offenders may face misdemeanor charges.

However, according to Proposition 47, a voter's initiative passed in 2014, you may only face misdemeanor charges under certain circumstances. For you to face misdemeanor charges, the value of the check forged must not exceed $950. You must not have an additional conviction for identity theft under California Penal Code 530.5 PC. If you have a prior conviction for committing a serious felony, the crime of check fraud may be a wobbler even if you have met all the requirements to have the offense charged as a misdemeanor. Serious felonies may include crimes like murder. Serious sex crimes that require you to register as a sex offender under California law also qualify as serious felonies.

If you face misdemeanor charges for a crime of check fraud, you will serve jail time of up to one year in county jail. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000. If the court charges you with a felony, you may serve formal probation and jail time of up to one year in county jail. You may also face more extended imprisonment of 16 months, two years, or three years in county jail. You may also pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.

What if You Return the Money Obtained using a Fraudulent Check

You may succeed in obtaining money or property from another person using a fraudulent check. If you decide to return the money obtained illegally, will you still receive fraud charges under California law? It is important to note that you cannot state the fact that you returned the money or property obtained using a fraudulent check as a legal defense. Even if you return the ill-acquired cash or property, you are still guilty of the crime of forgery. However, you may receive a less severe sentence if you make restitution to the victim through your attorney. You have to make restitution to the victim at the earliest time possible for it to count as a mitigating factor when determining your sentence. Restitution entails reimbursing or paying the victim any loss that he/she may have incurred due to your forgery or check fraud.

I Did Not Defraud Anyone

You may be wondering whether you can face forgery or fraud charges if you commit check fraud, but you do not succeed in defrauding another person. You should note that even if another person does not suffer legal, financial, or property loss due to your actions, you will still face fraud charges under California law. You are liable to check fraud the minute you commit the act of making or altering a check and passing it.

Reduction of Check Fraud Charges

If you are facing check fraud charges, can the court reduce your charges to a lesser offense? Yes, as long as the circumstances allow, the court may charge you with a smaller/lower crime of attempted check fraud instead of charging you with actual check fraud. You may face lower charges under California Penal Code Section 664 for a failed attempt to commit check fraud. An offense of attempted check fraud may have several consequences, including imprisonment. However, you will only serve half the imprisonment you would serve for committing actual check fraud. For example, if the applicable sentence for check fraud is three years, you would face imprisonment of one and a half years if the court reduces your charges to attempted check fraud.

I was Only in Possession of a False Check

You may not have been involved in making or altering a fraudulent check but only in possession of the check. However, you may still face prosecution under California law for having the altered check. You may face criminal charges for receiving or possessing a forged check. However, to get the criminal charges, it must be evident that you had the intention of passing or using the check to commit fraud. You may also face criminal charges for possessing unfinished or blank checks. The prosecutor does not have to prove that you intended to fill the incomplete check. The prosecutor only needs to prove that you were aware of the fraudulent purpose of the check.

What if the check Cannot be used to commit fraud?

At times, you may possess a false check that you cannot successfully use to commit fraud. Can you still face charges for holding such a check? You may not suffer fraud charges unless the false check of such a nature that another person may be defrauded using the check. You cannot incur a conviction for check fraud for merely falsifying writing on a check. The check should not only be false but should also be severe enough to be used to trick other people. If the check is easy to identify as fake, it may not attract a check fraud conviction.

Fighting Check Fraud Charges

If you are facing charges under California Penal Code 476 PC, you may employ several legal defense strategies to fight the charges in court. You have to start by seeking the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Some of the common legal defenses for charges under Penal Code 476 PC include:

You did not have a Fraudulent Intent

You cannot face charges for a fraud crime if it is evident that you did not have the intent to commit fraud. Any form of fraud offense in California requires you to intend to make an illegal gain from the offense. If you make a fraudulent check, but you have no purpose of using the check or trying to cash the check, you cannot face fraud charges. In other instances, you may pass a fraudulent check without your knowledge. For example, another individual may present you with a fake check, and you fail to realize that the check is fake. At the time of trying to cash the check, the police arrest you for passing a fraudulent check. You can defend yourself in court by asserting that you did not know the check was not genuine. If you did not make the fake check, you might not have had a reason to believe suspect that the check was not genuine. Therefore, you cannot face check fraud charges; the fact that you were not aware you were handling a fraudulent check means you had no fraudulent intent.

You had the Consent to Alter the Check

You may alter a check by changing the amount on the check or by altering the names of the payee. You may also have signed another individual's name on the check. However, if it is evident that you had the consent to make the alterations or to sign using another person's name, you cannot face fraud charges. However, the person who has the legal authority to give that consent must have granted the approval. You can assert in court that you were acting according to the wishes or instructions of the check owner, and you did not intend to commit fraud.

Mistaken Identity

You may fight fraud charges in court by asserting that you are a victim of mistaken identity. For instance, another person may have made the fake check and presented it to you only for the police to arrest you. In this case, you are not the party who should face fraud charges. The person who made or altered the check is the real culprit and should face the charges on your behalf.

Your experienced criminal defense attorney will examine your case and unearth all the underlying details. Therefore, if you are a victim of mistaken identity, you do not have to pay for another person's mistakes. You only need proper legal representation to help prove in court that you are innocent.

Related Offenses

Several other crimes under California law are related to the crime of check fraud. The court may charge you with these offenses alongside check fraud charges. The court may also charge with the related crimes instead of check fraud. Some of the closely-related crimes include:

California Bad Checks Law

The California Penal Code 476a outlines the crime of bad checks. You may face charges under Penal Code 376a if you write or pass a check, and you are aware that you do not have enough funds in the account to cover the amount outlined on the check. For you to face charges, it must be evident that you wrote of passed the check with the intent of committing fraud. The crime writing a bad check is a misdemeanor offense if the bad check totals a total amount of $950 or less. The crime is also a misdemeanor if the defendant does not have prior convictions. In other cases, an offense/crime of writing a bad check is a wobbler, and the court may assign misdemeanor or felony charges.

For a misdemeanor offense under Penal Code 476 a, the charges include imprisonment for up to one year in county jail. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000. For a felony writing a bad check, the penalties may include custody in a county jail for up to three years. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.

The payee has a right to sue the defendant in a civil court to help him/her to recoup the full amount of the check. The payee may also ask for additional compensation for damages and inconveniences. However, other losses should not exceed $1,500.

According to California law, writing a bad check is a crime of moral turpitude. Therefore, the crime may have adverse immigration consequences, especially if you are not a resident of California. A crime of moral turpitude may render a non-citizen inadmissible into the United States. A non-citizen may also face deportation for committing a crime of moral turpitude.


California law punishes the crime of check fraud the same way as the crime of forgery as outlined under Penal Code 470 PC. Forgery law is comprehensive, but in general, the law prohibits signing the name of another person without the consent of the person. This act includes signing the name of another person on a check. California law also makes it illegal to forge, counterfeit, the handwriting, or the seal of another person. According to California forgery law, it is also unlawful to falsify, alter, or corrupt a deed, will, or court judgment.

The critical difference between forgery and check fraud is that forgery is broad and applies to a wide range of documents. On the other hand, check fraud applies to checks, bills, or notes. Therefore, any other form of forgery other than checks, bills, and notes qualifies as a forgery. If you forge a person's name on a check, the prosecutor may charge you with forgery under Penal Code 470 PC or check fraud under Penal Code 476 PC. You may not face both charges at once for a single offense. The California law allows you to get a conviction for only one of the two crimes at once.

Grand Theft

The crime of grand theft is also closely related to the crime of check theft under California law. The California grand theft law outline under Penal Code 487 PC makes it illegal to take property or money from people without their consent. If the value of cash or property exceeds $950, you may face grand theft charges. Therefore, in the case of check fraud, you may face grand theft charges if you make a pass using a fraudulent or fake check for more than $950, and you use the proceeds of the check to obtain money or goods.

Grand theft is a wobbler under California law, and you may face misdemeanor or felony charges. If the check involved is of n amount greater than $65,000, you will automatically face felony grand theft charges.

Contact San Jose Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you are facing check fraud charges, you risk jail time and paying off hefty penalties. California Criminal Lawyer Group has expert attorneys who can help you come up with a defense strategy. Contact us at 408-622-0204 and speak to one of our attorneys today.