A conviction for a fraud crime such as check fraud may significantly destroy the trust you established with people or entities related to your case regarding financial matters. The Virginia Criminal Attorney stands out for our intuitive approach to helping clients like you fight fraud charges. Our legal services for driving offenses, drug crimes, fraud and property crimes are tailored for residents of Fairfax, Virginia, and the entire Northern Virginia area. In this guide, our legal experts break down check fraud crime into parts so that you can understand the implications of the crime.
What is Check Fraud Under the Virginia Laws?
The Consumer Protection Section (a division in the office of Virginia's Attorney General) regularly creates awareness on fraud. This division also investigates and responds to consumer complaints on matters such as bad checks, bank fraud, mortgage fraud, and phone scams. There's even a hotline that allows Virginia residents to report such cases. Laws enacted to solve fraudulent incidents continue getting stricter in Virginia while such measures are adopted.
As a violation of Virginia's laws on fraud, check fraud may involve making, passing or possessing an altered/fake check with intent to defraud an entity or a person. Most check fraud offenses are committed with the goal of gaining monetary from a check. Not all of them go undetected in the banking institutions in which they are delivered.
Check fraud can be committed through means such as forging checks and issuing bad checks. Check forgery involves using someone else's legitimate checks (that have been stolen) or altering a check by adding digits or words to increase the amount. Virginia Code 18.2-172 considers forging as a crime that involves obtaining someone else’s signature with the intent to defraud the person.
Pursuant to Virginia Code 18.2-181, the act of issuing bad checks is a crime. Such a crime can occur when you make, utter, draw or deliver any check or money request to a banking institution with intent to defraud the institution. You'll be guilty of this offense if you don't have adequate credit or funds with the company you intend to defraud. The term "credit," under VA Code 18.2-181, refers to any understanding or arrangement with a banking institution for the payment of a check, order or draft.
What are the Possible Penalties for Check Fraud in Virginia?
Any act of forgery including check forgery is treated as a Class 5 felony under VA Code 18.2-172. Penalties for a Class 5 felony in Virginia include an imprisonment term not exceeding ten years. In case of a jury’s discretion or the court prosecuting you without a jury present, the jail confinement term is less than twelve months while the payable fine is less than $2,500.
Issuing bad checks with the intention to defraud a banking institution or trust company can either be punished as a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class 6 felony under VA Code 18.2-181. Such an offense qualifies as a Class 1 misdemeanor if the check, order or draft represents a cash value that’s less than $500. Consequently, the offense qualifies as a Class 6 felony if the check, order or draft represents a cash value that’s $500 or more.
VA Code 18.2-182 states that it's a crime to issue bad checks as wage payments on behalf of a corporation or business firm. If the check, order or draft is less than $500 in value, the crime qualifies as a Class 1 misdemeanor. For the offense to be a Class 6 felony, the order, draft or check must be $500 or more in value. Committing such a crime may attract a civil lawsuit besides attracting criminal penalties.
You'll be charged with a Virginia Class 6 felony (under VA Code 18.2-181-1) for issuing two or more bad drafts, orders or checks with an average cash value of $500 or more within 90 days. The charges will still apply if the checks or drafts were made payable to a similar corporation, firm, or person. Drawing or delivering them on the same account of a trust company or banking institution can also make you guilty of this crime.
For a Class 1 misdemeanor committed in Virginia, you may pay a fine not exceeding $2500 and face a jail confinement term not exceeding twelve months. For a Class 6 felony, your imprisonment term will range from a year to five years. If a Virginia court tries your case in the absence or the discretion of a jury, your jail confinement term won't exceed 12 months while the fine won't exceed $2,500.
Penalties for Paying Taxes with Bad Checks
Pursuant to Virginia Code 18.2-182.1, it's a crime to issue bad checks as a means to pay taxes intentionally. Such an offense is usually prosecuted as a Class 1 misdemeanor with penalties including a $2,500 maximum fine and a jail confinement term not exceeding twelve months. The bad checks can be issued to a trust company, banking institution or any other depository on your behalf to pay state taxes.
What Does the Prosecutor Rely on to Charge You With Check Fraud in Virginia?
Prosecutors will rely on the notice mailed to you for issuing a check, order or draft as evidence when charging you with check fraud. The mail notice is usually evidenced by a return receipt, which indicates your last known address. If the address noted on the return receipt matches your last known address, you'll be considered as a suspect of check fraud crime. Under VA Code 18.2-183, the mail notice qualifies as evidence for proving intent and knowledge to commit check fraud.
If you made a check on a banking institution in which you don’t have an account, the prosecutors will conclude that your goal was to defraud the institution. In this case, they won’t rely on the mail notice to charge you with check fraud. They’ll rely on the fact that your name isn’t included on the list of the bank’s account holders.
Notations such as "no account in this name," "account closed," "uncollected funds" and "not sufficient funds" are usually attached to bad checks, orders or drafts. Such notations may mean that a banking institution declined your check, order or draft since you didn't have credit or adequate funds in your account. Virginia Code 18.2-184 allows prosecutors to use such notations as evidence for charging offenders with check fraud.
Elements of a Check Fraud Crime in Virginia
Pursuant to Virginia Code 18.2-181, you'll face check fraud charges only if certain conditions are true. Such terms are synonymous to the elements of a check fraud crime. They are as follows:
- Making, Drawing, Uttering or Delivering a Bad Check
The act of making, drawing, uttering or delivering a bad check, draft, or order is among the factors that prosecutors use to build check fraud allegations against you. Since banks have measures for detecting bad checks and sending email notices for delivered checks, it’s quite easy for prosecutors to prove that you engaged in one of these acts. You’ll still be a suspect in a check fraud crime if you delivered a bad check wrote by someone else.
- Intent to Defraud a Banking Institution
Proving intent in a check fraud case is a task that Virginia prosecutors need to complete before charging you for issuing bad checks. They can prove that you intended to defraud a bank or trust company if the institution (in which you tried to make a bad check) hasn't registered you as an account owner. Your previous fraud convictions and how you issued the bad checks may also help in proving intent to defraud.
- Knowledge of Inadequate Funds
Banking institutions usually notify account holders about insufficient funds in their accounts if they’re trying to make checks. If you fail to pay the check in full within the 5-day notice period, you may be a suspect in a check fraud case. Prosecutors may rely on the fact that the bank notified you about your account balance but you went on to make the check with the intention to defraud the company.
Types of Evidence that May Help the Prosecutor to Build a Check Fraud Case
The most fundamental evidence rule assets that only evidence that's relevant to a case is admissible to court. A piece of evidence may be relevant if it proves or disapproves an element of a particular crime. For your case, the prosecutor could base the evidence on the following circumstances or objects:
- Notices showing that a bad check you made was declined
- Proof that you altered a check with intent to defraud
- Records of your prior fraud convictions (if there are any)
- Proof that you improperly withheld a piece of evidence from the investigators or proof that you destroyed it
- Any reliable witness willing to testify pursuant to VA Code 8.01-396
Note that a Virginia court will only consider the evidence useful to your case if it's reliable and persuasive. The court will also examine the credibility of the witnesses, the source of the evidence, and whether the evidence is circumstantial or direct. Direct evidence, which is considered as the most substantial piece of evidence, proves a fact directly while circumstantial evidence proves a fact indirectly.
Legal Defenses for Fighting Check Fraud Charges
As much as you want a Virginia court to find you not guilty of check fraud, you must be willing to have a lawyer to prove your innocence. Numerous facts and pieces of evidence come into play when being prosecuted for check fraud. Your criminal defense lawyer has to present them and challenge those submitted by the prosecution team using any of the following defenses:
- Mistaken Identity
Such an argument can help prove your innocence if there's a real culprit who made/altered a check. Your attorney may state that you didn't realize that the check you were attempting to pass was changed or fake. If the court considers this argument, then the true culprit should be prosecuted instead of you. Your lawyer may also work closely with a private investigator to unmask the party that committed this crime.
- No Intent to Defraud
Under VA Code 18.2-181, one of the elements that make up a check fraud crime is the intent. A Virginia court will only find you guilty of the offense if the prosecutor proves that you intended to use or cash a bad check. Using or cashing a check that you didn’t know was altered won’t make you guilty of such an offense.
Altering words or digits on a check to get more value from the check can only be treated as a crime if the person didn't authorize you. If you prove that you had legal consent from the person, it's possible for your charges to be dropped or reduced. For this argument to work in your favor, the court will require evidence showing that the other party consented to the alterations.
- False Accusations
A conflict between two parties at a workplace setting may take a negative turn when one party accuses the other one of check fraud. The accuser may adopt mechanisms to make the crime appear as if you committed it. Your only hope is to have a criminal defense lawyer hear your side of the story and use it to prove your innocence. If the court accepts your lawyer's false accusation argument, you may have the charges dropped and the accuser charged for falsely accusing you and committing check fraud.
- The Handwriting on the Check Doesn’t Match Yours
For a check forgery scenario, the prosecutors have to prove that your handwriting was used to alter a check for fraudulent monetary gains. Your attorney may present a handwriting specialist to testify in a Virginia court as an expert witness. The expert will testify after examining your writing samples to make a valid conclusion. Note that the handwriting specialist must meet the requirements of Virginia’s Department of Forensic Science.
Check fraud is one of the fraud crimes punishable under the Virginia laws. A conviction for this crime may also attract charges for other crimes. They include:
- Obtaining Signature or Money by False Pretense
Using false pretense to earn money or someone else's signature is a Class 4 felony under Virginia Code 18.2-178. For this law to apply to your case, the prosecutors must prove that you had intentions to defraud the victim of a gift certificate, money, or any other valuable property. Your case will be heard in a court based in the same county or city in which the crime occurred.
- Forging or Uttering Writings
The crime of forgery is considered as a Class 5 felony under VA Code 18.2-172. Forgery charges arise when you use a token or false pretense to obtain someone else's signature and defraud them. The forged document is admissible to a Virginia court as evidence. Sentencing for such an offense depends on the amount of evidence and validity of facts presented in court.
- Using False Statements to Obtain Credit or Property
Knowingly making false statements (in writing) directly or indirectly to obtain property or credit is a Class 1 misdemeanor pursuant to VA Code 18.2-186. You’ll still be prosecuted under this law when you’re using the false statements to obtain credit/property on behalf of a company. Prosecutors may also charge you if you were aware that someone else falsified the statements to get credit or property. Either way, your case will be tried in the city or county in which you committed the offense.
- Using Someone Else’s Identity With Intent to Harass, Intimidate, or Coerce
Using a person’s identifying information with a goal of coercing, intimidating, or harassing them is an offense punishable under VA Code 18.2-186.4. The identifying information may include the person's name, photograph, and primary residence address. Violating this law may result in you getting charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor. If the victim of the crime is a law enforcement officer, your charges will be increased to a Class 6 felony to include a mandatory confinement term of up to six months.
- Unauthorized Use of Someone Else’s Name or Picture
Pursuant to VA Code 18.2-216.1, it's illegal to use someone else's name or picture without their consent. Consent, in this context, must be in written form and must be obtained from the person or person's relative (if the party is deceased). A corporation, firm or person that knowingly commits such an act is guilty of a misdemeanor. Penalties for such an offense include paying a fine that ranges from $50 to $1,000.
Enlist Legal Help for Check Fraud Charges from a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
The success of any fraud case prosecuted in a Virginia court depends on the extent your lawyer can prove your innocence. You have to collaborate with your attorney throughout the process to achieve positive outcomes. Cooperation, in this case, entails giving your side of the story and asking for updates concerning your case. Virginia Criminal Attorney law firm values potential clients like you seeking legal help.
Our legal services cut across drug crimes, driving offenses, theft, sex crimes, violent crimes, property crimes, fraud, and other crimes. Our extensive experience in criminal law is based on helping Fairfax and Northern Virginia residents seek justice. Call 703-718-5533 so we can help schedule a free legal consultation and start building a strong defense for your case.