When money is tight and bills are due, it is not uncommon for people to try to float a check—to write a check with the knowledge that the account has insufficient funds to cover it in hopes that the funds will be available before the check clears. Although this act is common, it is against Oklahoma law, and a person who bounces a check could be criminally prosecuted.
Checks that are written without sufficient funds to cover them are often called “bogus checks” or “hot checks.” Essentially, the district attorney’s office considers writing hot checks to be a theft crime, as there is no money to pay for the product or service obtained through the check. Writing a check with the knowledge of insufficient funds, or writing a check on a closed account, is a type of fraud. A check is essentially a promise of payment, and any time a person presents a check in exchange for merchandise or services, it is assumed that the person does so with the knowledge that the check will clear. If the person does so with the knowledge that it will not clear, state law calls the issuance of that check an attempt to defraud the retailer or service provider.
Fraud is typically an intentional attempt to deceive another person. Writing a bogus check on a closed account, forging a signature on a check, or knowing that there are insufficient funds for the check to clear are construed as intentional acts of fraud—the person writing the bogus check is attempting to get something without paying for it.
Often, however, a bounced check is not an intentional act at all. A person may not realize his or her account is overdrawn until he or she receives notice that the check was returned for nonpayment. Is it still a crime if there is no intent?
Yes, according to the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office. An account holder is expected to keep up with his or her accounts and to know whether there are sufficient funds to cover any checks he or she writes. If a check is returned for insufficient funds, the law assumes knowledge and intent to defraud.
Typically, if a check is returned, the recipient of the bounced check will demand cash payment plus a returned check fee. If a bank covers the check, it will typically charge an overdraft fee. If the person who wrote the bounced check makes prompt payment and does not have a history of bogus checks, that is often the end of the story.
However, if payment is not made within 5 days or there is other evidence of an intentional attempt to defraud, the retailer or service provider may turn the check over to the district attorney’s office for criminal prosecution.
The penalties for bogus checks depend upon the number or bogus checks written and the amount for which they were written.
Title 21 O.S. § 1541 makes it a misdemeanor to use a “false or bogus check” to obtain money, property, services, or “any valuable thing” valued at $500 or less. The maximum penalties for misdemeanor check fraud include up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
If the value of the property obtained by the bogus check or checks is $500 or more, but less than $1,000, passing bogus checks becomes a felony. It is still punishable by a maximum of one year in jail, but the fine increases to $5,000 and the defendant is ordered to pay restitution.
A bogus check conviction valued at $1,000 or more carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. This applies whether the person is convicted of passing one bad check written for $1,000 or two or more checks written for smaller amounts but totaling $1,000 or more.
If you are charged with writing bad checks in Oklahoma, you may be subject to much more serious consequences than overdraft fees and returned check fees. You may also face criminal prosecution and the possibility of misdemeanor or felony conviction. To find out how we can help with bogus checks defense, call Coventon Criminal Defense for a confidential, free case evaluation.