What Happens if You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check?

By Jackie Lam · May 20, 2024 · 5 minute read

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What Happens if You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check?

There are many reasons why you might end up accidentally depositing a fake check into your bank account. Scammers often use fake checks as part of various schemes to steal money from unsuspecting victims. They may send you a fake check and ask you to deposit it, then request that you send them a portion of the funds back, claiming it’s for fees, taxes, or some other reason. By the time the bank realizes the check is fake, you’re left responsible for the full amount.

Why do these scams work? The fake checks generally look just like real checks, even to bank employees, with appropriate watermarks, and they may appear to be issued by legitimate financial institutions.

Here’s a closer look at what happens if you accidentally deposit a fake check, plus ways to spot counterfeit checks.

Key Points

•   Depositing a fake check can initially seem problem-free as funds often become available quickly.

•   Once a bank identifies a check as counterfeit, the depositor must cover the check’s amount.

•   Additional consequences include potential overdraft fees, late payment fees, and possible account closure.

•   A negative banking history, such as being reported to ChexSystems, may result from depositing fake checks.

•   Spotting fake checks involves checking for proper paper quality, bank details, and unusual amounts.

Consequences of Depositing Fake Checks

If you accidentally deposit a fake check, everything may be fine at first. By federal law, the bank must make the funds available to you within one or two business days. When the funds are made available in your account, the bank may say the check has “cleared,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a good check.

Fake checks can take weeks to be discovered and sorted out. When the bank realizes the check is fake (often after you’ve spent the money or given it to someone else), here is what happens:

•   You have to cover the cost of the check. The bank will typically debit your account for the amount of the fake check, and may also charge you a processing fee.

•   You’ll lose any money you sent to the scammer. While in some rare cases you may be able to request a chargeback on a fraudulent transaction, it’s unlikely that you will be able to get any money back once you’ve given it to a scammer.

•   You may have to pay overdraft fees. If you spent the check amount before the bank realized it was fake and debited your account for the amount, it’s possible your account could get overdrawn. In that case, you could face overdraft fees, which can run $30 to $35 per transaction.

•   You may have to pay late fees. If you aren’t able to pay your bills because of insufficient funds after depositing a bad check, companies may charge you late fees.

•   Your bank could close or freeze your account. Banks will often freeze or close accounts for suspicious activity, including attempts to pass off bad checks. You’ll want to check your bank deposit account agreement to see in what scenarios your bank can close your account.

•   It could hurt your credit score. If you relied on the check to pay upcoming bills, you might miss their due dates. Because payment history is the biggest factor credit bureaus use to determine your credit score, missed payments can do damage to your credit.

•   Your banking history could be tarnished. The bank may report the fake check incident to the banking reporting agency ChexSystems. If so, the agency will then record that information in its files about your checking history. Banks and credit unions may use that information to determine whether to allow you to open a bank account in the future.

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Can You Go to Jail for Depositing Fake Checks?

Whether or not you’ll face criminal charges (and potential jail time) for depositing a fake check will depend on whether or not you knowingly deposited a fake check, as well as the laws in your state. If you are simply the victim of a scam, you likely won’t face criminal charges or jail time.

Knowingly committing check fraud, however, is a serious crime that can result in significant fines and even jail time. In Indiana, for example, the lowest level of check fraud is a misdemeanor, which can lead to imprisonment for up to one year and a fine of $5,000. If the amount on the check was between $750 and $50,000, you will instead be charged with a felony. The potential sentence for this is six months to two- and-a-half years in jail, plus up to a $10,000 fine.

If you are convicted of a check fraud felony in New York State, on the other hand, it could mean up to seven years in prison.

Recommended: How Long Is a Check Good For?

6 Tips to Spot Fake Checks

Counterfeit checks can look incredibly real, making them difficult to spot without careful examination. To protect yourself from falling victim to check fraud, it’s important to know how to identify a counterfeit check. Here are six tips to help you spot a fake.

1. Feel the Edges of the Check.

If the check is legit, it should have one perforated edge (where it was ripped from a checkbook). A check that is smooth on all sides is a tipoff that it’s a fake.

2. Examine the Paper

Genuine checks are usually printed on high-quality paper with intricate designs that are hard to replicate. Hold the check up to the light to see if it has watermarks or security threads. Genuine checks often have these features, while counterfeit checks may appear flat and lack these security measures.

3. Check the Bank Information

Verify that the bank’s name and logo on the check match the ones used by the actual bank. You can do this by visiting the bank’s official website or calling their customer service hotline. You can use an online tool like BankFind to check if a bank is backed up by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

4. Scrutinize the Check Amount

Be wary of checks that have unusually high or round amounts. Scammers often use these amounts to make the check look more appealing. If you receive a check for an unexpected amount, it’s a good idea to contact the issuer directly to verify its authenticity.

5. Look for Typos

Counterfeit checks often contain spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or inconsistent fonts. Carefully review the check for any such errors, as they can indicate that the check is fake.

6. Be Wary of Pressure Tactics

deposit the check quickly. They may claim that the check is a limited-time offer or that you must act fast to receive a prize or reward. Take your time to verify the check’s authenticity before taking any action.

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What if Someone Else Deposits a Fake Check Into Your Account?

If someone else deposits a fake check into your account, the situation can be complex and you’ll want to take prompt action to mitigate any potential negative consequences.

As soon as you become aware of the fraudulent deposit, contact your bank to report the issue and give them all the relevant details, including the date of the deposit, the amount, and any other information you have about the check. It’s also a good idea to ask your bank to place a hold on your account to prevent any further transactions from occurring until the situation is resolved. This can help prevent additional fraudulent activity.

As your bank investigates the fraudulent deposit, they may request documentation to support your claim that the deposit was fraudulent, such as copies of the fake check, any communication you have had with the person who deposited the check, and any other relevant information.

Going forward, you’ll want to take steps to protect your account from further fraudulent activity. This may include changing your online banking passwords, setting up alerts for suspicious activity, and being cautious about sharing your account information.

The Takeaway

Check fraud is just one of the many ways that scammers con people into giving them money. If you unknowingly deposit a fake check into your account, the consequences include fees and, possibly, a negative mark on your banking history and the closing of your account. To avoid being scammed, look for the signs of a fraudulent check, and avoid cashing a check that you weren’t expecting, or for more than the agreed-upon amount.

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Can you get in trouble for accidentally depositing a fake check?

Yes, you can potentially get in trouble for accidentally depositing a fake check. While an accidental deposit may not lead to legal consequences, you may get hit with bank fees, you’ll need to repay any amount of the check you spent, and the bank may put a hold on your account. It’s crucial to cooperate with your bank’s investigation and take steps to rectify the situation promptly.

Is the bank responsible for cashing a fake check?

Generally, banks are not responsible for cashing a fake check if they can demonstrate that they followed proper procedures and exercised reasonable care in processing the check. However, if the bank is found to have been negligent or failed to detect obvious signs of fraud, they may be held liable for cashing a fake check. It’s important to review your bank’s policies and procedures regarding check deposits and fraud prevention.

Photo credit: iStock/AndreyPopov

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