Engaging in activities like creating, writing, or passing fake checks to cheat someone can lead to severe consequences, including charges of check fraud. These fraudulent activities can be committed to evade criminal charges or acquire financial gain. Even an accidental error on your part could potentially be misconstrued as an attempt at check fraud.

If you are caught passing a fake check, the penalties can be very serious and vary based on the amount of the check. Therefore, you should seek the advice of legal counsel if you or someone you know is suspected of check fraud. We are in the Monterey area and seeking an expert fraud crimes defense attorney, contact us at Monterey Criminal Attorney to see how we can help you.

An Overview of California Check Fraud

Check fraud has become one of the most common types of fraud due to technological advancements. Scammers can now use computer software to create counterfeit checks and engage in fraudulent activities. California check fraud is prosecuted under PC 476, and being convicted of this crime can result in severe penalties. If you or a loved one is facing accusations of check fraud, it’s crucial to seek legal counsel from a criminal defense lawyer.

What is Check Fraud?

Check fraud usually occurs when someone endorses or writes a check on behalf of another person without their knowledge or consent. If the check contains any fraudulent writings, illegal signatures, or altered numbers, it can be deemed as counterfeit. Both creating and presenting a forged or altered check can lead to a felony conviction.

The prosecution has the responsibility to prove that you possessed or attempted to use a forged check for payment of a good or service. Additionally, they must establish that you were aware of the fraudulent nature of the document. According to California PC 476, the prosecutor has to demonstrate the following elements of the crime to establish your guilt:

You Made, Used, or Tried To Use A Fake Check

If you sign a document without obtaining permission, you will be held responsible for creating or altering a check. By editing or changing the contents of the document, you are also committing fraud. This can include making modifications, altering specific sections, or removing any information from the check. If you are charged with possessing an altered check, the prosecution must prove that you had possession of the check and intended to present it as genuine when making a payment for a product or service.

A fake check used in check fraud is created digitally and does not physically exist in a bank. If a check is made out to or signed by a nonexistent person, it will also be considered fraudulent. However, writing a check on a canceled account could not always be considered check fraud, as the check writer could be unaware that the account has been terminated.

You Knew That The Check Was False or Altered

If you alter a document to make it look different from the original, you could be accused of committing check fraud. To prove your guilt, the prosecutor must also show that you were aware the check was fraudulent. It's important to note that you could still face charges of check fraud even if you didn't personally alter the check but were aware of its fraudulent nature. However, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can help ensure that there’s no evidence suggesting your awareness of the counterfeit check.

You Meant to Defraud Someone When You Gave the Fake Check

In check fraud cases, it’s crucial to establish that the person intended to deceive someone else by presenting fraud to obtain their money or property. It is important to note that a person can be found guilty of this crime even if the victim did not suffer any financial loss or was not tricked into giving anything up.

Under California PC 476, individuals can be prosecuted and found guilty for even attempting to deceive. However, you cannot be prosecuted for check fraud if the prosecution cannot demonstrate that you intended to deceive another person.

Penalties for Check Fraud Conviction

California check fraud is considered a wobbler crime, meaning it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on your previous history and the case's specifics. If the value of the check used to commit theft and if you also committed identity theft exceeds $950, you would be charged with felony check fraud.

When convicted of check fraud as a misdemeanor, the following consequences could occur:

  • A year and a half behind bars
  • Informal probation
  • Hefty fines that don't go over $1,000

However, there are potential consequences that can arise from a felony conviction, including:

  • Felony probation as well as a year or more in jail
  • Two to three years behind bars
  • A hefty fine not exceeding $10,000

Defenses For Check Fraud Charges

Sometimes, an arrest for check fraud can happen because of an honest error or miscommunication. However, being detained and accused of check fraud doesn't necessarily mean that one will be found guilty. The outcome of the case depends on the specific circumstances of the offense. To defend you against PC 476, your attorney can employ various defense tactics.

Here are a few solid legal defenses you can consider to support your case:

  • Lack of Malicious or Fraudulent Intent

To establish check fraud, the prosecution must demonstrate the presence of an intent to commit fraud. If it is clear that you are deliberately attempting to deceive someone to obtain cash, property, or goods, you will be found guilty of this offense. There could be instances where you knowingly try to present a counterfeit check.

Furthermore, you could have a valid reason to believe that you were authorized to sign a document on behalf of the other party or make changes to it. If your lawyer can demonstrate that you had no intention of defrauding, your charges could be dropped or reduced to a lesser offense. It is crucial to have competent legal representation to effectively present this defense.

  • The Victim Gave Consent

There are several situations in which changing a check is not considered a crime. However, it is important to note that altering the contents of a check or signing a check without the signer's authorization is against the law. While someone could initially permit you to sign a check, if they later revoke that agreement, you could potentially face charges of check fraud. In California, under PC 476, you can avoid conviction if you can provide evidence that you had authorization to make the modifications or sign the check.

  • False Accusation

Many accusations and charges of check fraud arise from complex personal and professional relationships. In some instances, they occur when someone wants to shift the blame for their actions. If you find yourself in such a situation, it is crucial to seek the help of a competent criminal defense lawyer who can thoroughly investigate the details of the offense. By presenting evidence and convincing the prosecutor that you are a victim of false accusations, you could be able to avoid being convicted of check fraud and establish the truth.

  • Testimony from Experts

If you are suspected of forging checks or signing on someone else's behalf, you could consider involving a handwriting expert. Their testimony will determine whether or not the expert believes the signature on the forged check belongs to you. This will be done by comparing the fake checks to files of your previous signatures.

Furthermore, the law could allow additional witnesses who are not handwriting specialists to testify about their impressions of the signatures on the check. However, it is important to understand that this testimony alone will not be sufficient to secure a conviction.

  • You Were Not Aware Of the Fake Check

Under California PC 487, if you were aware that the check you tried to present was fraudulent, you would be considered guilty. However, if you can prove that you were unaware the document you submitted was fake, you can raise this defense in your check fraud case. With the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer, you can demonstrate your ignorance and show that you unintentionally sent the fictitious check.

Getting a Conviction for Check Fraud Expunged

The purpose of a criminal record dismissal or erasure is to free you from the negative consequences of a conviction. An expungement can also help you obtain and maintain a professional license. If you are convicted of check fraud, you could request to have your records erased. However, if you have received a state prison sentence, you could not be eligible for record expungement. To qualify for record expungement, you must have completed your entire probationary period and not be involved in any ongoing criminal proceedings.

You could still have the records erased if you broke the rules or did not complete probation. You can petition for your sentence to be erased two years after serving it. A lawyer will review your case and determine if you qualify for relief. If you are granted expungement, employers are not allowed to discriminate against you based on your criminal record, even for theft-related checks.

Additionally, having a conviction expunged can make it easier for you to obtain professional licenses. However, it's important to note that this information could still appear in background checks conducted by potential employers. If you wish to have your check fraud conviction expunged, it is advisable to seek legal counsel.

Frequently Asked Questions about Check Fraud

Some of the most common inquiries regarding California check fraud are listed below:

Could I Face Check Fraud Charges Even If The Victim Didn't Suffer Any Financial Loss As A Result Of My Use Of A Fraudulent Check?

Yes, when you use or attempt to use a fake check to defraud someone, it is referred to as check fraud. It's important to note that you don't have to give money to someone else to commit this crime. If you try to pass a counterfeit check or alter one, you can be arrested and charged under California PC 476.

Even If I Return The Money I Stole, Can I Still Be Prosecuted For Check Fraud?

Yes, you will. Attempting to reimburse the victim for fraudulent property cannot be used as a defense for check fraud. Even if you repay what you were given, you could still be charged and found guilty of the offense. However, making restitution to the victim promptly could potentially lead to a less severe sentence. To help you navigate the restitution process, it will be essential to consult with a qualified criminal defense lawyer.

In Which Situations Can A Case Of Check Fraud Be Resolved In Favor Of A Less Serious Offense?

With the guidance of a criminal defense counsel and a strong defense, a charge under California PC 476 has the potential to be reduced to attempted fraud. The penalties for attempting to commit California check fraud are half of those for the actual offense. By being charged with a lesser crime, one can expect a reduced sentence and lower fines in this particular case.

What Happens If I Use A Check That Is Not Genuine And Shouldn't Be Trusted?

If the fake documentation you produced cannot be mistaken for an authentic one, you will not be found guilty of check fraud. You will not be prosecuted for check fraud unless the fake check is convincing enough to be considered authentic. According to California PC 476, a check must not only be fraudulent but also potentially perceived as such. For example, a check written on a piece of cloth is not sufficient evidence.

Can I Be Charged For Possessing A Forged Check That I Did Not Alter?

Yes, you can. It is illegal to possess or receive a falsified check under California law. Even if you had no involvement in the falsification of the document, you can still be charged with and found guilty of check fraud. The prosecution only needs to demonstrate your intent to pass or use the check for fraudulent purposes. You don't need to have a plan to participate in the check alteration. As long as you know the check's falsity and fraudulent intent, you can be prosecuted for check fraud.

What Effects Does A Conviction For Check Fraud Have On Immigration?

Under US immigration law, noncitizens who are convicted of certain crimes must either be deported or declared inadmissible. If you are found guilty of check fraud, your immigration status could be significantly affected by the conviction.

However, this is not always the case. Whether or not you will be deported depends on the circumstances surrounding the offense. The amount of the fraudulent check can influence the court's ruling on your immigration status. Therefore, it is crucial to have knowledgeable legal counsel if you are facing charges related to a fraudulent check.

Crimes Related To California Check Fraud

Presenting falsified or counterfeit paperwork with the intention of defrauding is commonly referred to as check fraud. This type of fraud occurs when someone writes a fake check with the intent of depriving another person of money. Some of the offenses related to check fraud include the following:


You can be found guilty of forgery when you:

  • Forge someone else's signature on a legal or financial document to gain permission
  • Falsify or counterfeit another person's signature or seal to commit fraud. To pass it off as the original, you could need to photocopy a document that contains a seal
  • Falsify, modify, or tamper with legal documents
  • Intentionally create or falsify a document of sales, payments, or property transfers

You don't have to engage in every one of the aforementioned actions to be accused of fraud. As long as it meets the criteria for being fake, the specific deed you did is not important. The act of forging, faking, or attempting to distribute a counterfeit check is referred to as check fraud. If you are charged with check fraud in California, you could face additional penalties related to forgery. This could be the case if you were involved in the planning, authoring, or editing of the document.

The prosecution has to demonstrate that you had the intention to defraud when you committed one of the aforementioned crimes. The aim of defrauding someone is to deceive them into relinquishing money, property, or legal rights. California forgery can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the details of the case and your criminal history.

If you did not engage in identity theft and you fabricated a check for less than $950, you could face misdemeanor charges. However, if you have previously been found guilty of a similar crime, you can face felony charges. Penalties for a misdemeanor forgery conviction could include the following:

  • Informal probation
  • Fines that do not exceed $1, 000
  • Maximum sentence of one year behind bars
  • Victim restitution

However, there are several consequences of committing felony forgery. These are:

  • Serving three years behind bars
  • Hefty fines up to $10,000
  • Probation
  • Paying restitution to the alleged victims

In addition to check fraud allegations, you could also face forgery accusations. That's why it's crucial to have knowledgeable legal counsel on your side.

Grand Theft

Theft of property that does not legally belong to you is known as grand theft. A conviction for grand theft occurs when the stolen goods are valued at least $950.

Grand theft can happen as a result of the following:

  • Larceny is the act of physically taking tangible property away from its rightful owner
  • Making false claims or lying about the truth of something is a pretense. When faced with a choice, the victim often has to rely on inaccurate information
  • Grand theft by deception occurs when someone takes something that doesn't belong to them and tricks the owner into giving it to them
  • Embezzlement is when someone gives you something, and you intentionally use it to deprive the owner of it

If you attempt to pass a counterfeit check as genuine and its value exceeds $950, you could face charges of grand theft and check fraud. In California, grand theft is considered a criminal offense and can result in both felony and misdemeanor penalties. Misdemeanor convictions can lead to a maximum sentence of one year in county jail, while felony convictions can result in up to three years of imprisonment.

Additionally, there will be a penalty enhancement if the property involved has a significant value. If your property is valued at $65,000 or more, you will receive an additional year in prison. For properties worth $200,000, the penalty is three years. For properties worth $1,300,000, the penalty is four years, and for properties exceeding $3,200,000, the penalty is five years.

Being charged with both grand theft and check fraud can have extremely detrimental consequences. Therefore, it is crucial to have the assistance of a criminal defense attorney when navigating the legal system.

Petty Theft

Petty theft is defined by California PC 488 as the unauthorized taking of property valued at $950 or less. Both petty theft and check fraud occur when someone tries to pass off a fake check for $950 or less through forgery, counterfeiting, or other methods. Petty theft is considered a misdemeanor and can result in a maximum $1,000 fine and a six-month prison sentence. However, if you are found guilty of both offenses, the consequences can be severe. To fight accusations of check fraud and overcome charges of small-time theft, you should consider seeking the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer.

Find a Fraud Crimes Defense Attorney Near Me

Check fraud convictions carry severe penalties, including fines and jail time. If you are a non-citizen residing in the country, a conviction for this offense will have an impact on your immigration status. However, you could be able to present legal defenses in court that could potentially result in reduced fines. If you or a loved one is facing check fraud allegations, you should consider seeking the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer. We at Monterey Criminal Attorney can represent you in court and challenge the allegations leveled against you. Give us a call at 831-574-1791.