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I was reading the answer to another question, and read this statement which basically states that writing a bounced check can land you in jail:

you're committing a fraud, namely offering someone a piece of paper and claiming it's worth $500 or whatever when it's really worthless (because you don't have the funds). Simply owing a debt is not considered criminal, but proffering payment that is not actually valid is considered defrauding the person you are trying to pay.

But this seems to suggest that any person who mistakenly writes a check, believing in good faith that they have and will continue to have sufficient funds to cover it until it is cashed, is violating the law and can be convicted of fraud.

Is this really the case? Or is there a difference between writing bad checks and being unlucky or insufficiently careful such that a check gets returned for insufficient funds simply because of bad timing? I have even seen some places display language to the effect that checks may be re-deposited if they are returned the first time, which seems to throw more confusion on the matter.

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The key word you used is "mistakenly." In the law, intent is almost more meaningful than action. Mistakenly writing a check that will bounce is very different than knowingly writing a check that will bounce. – quid Feb 26 at 22:36
up vote 12 down vote accepted

This may vary some by the state, but the general facts are consistent broadly.

The elements of check fraud typically are:

  • Dishonor Check - the check must be dishonored by the drawee for one of the reasons set forth in the statute.
  • Knowledge by the maker of the check that it would not be honored.
  • Present Consideration - the check must have been given for present consideration.

This means that not only do you have to have presented a check that is returned for insufficient funds, but you must have known at the time that it wouldn't be honored.

It must typically also be given for present consideration, which is why the comments to the other answer correctly note that the post-dated check "scam" cooked up by the payday loan folks shouldn't generally be relevant under these laws; on the same site, they note the cases that are clearly not present consideration:

  • Post-dated check.
  • Payment on an installment account or on an open account for goods/services previously received.
  • Request by Defendant to Victim to hold check, expects to deposit soon to cover balance.

So if I give you a check for $50 and it's returned for NSF because I screwed up my bank accounts and had all my money in savings, that's probably not fraud. But if I decide I really want a Tesla X and give Tesla Motors a check for $95,000, knowing I don't have $95,000, that's fraud.

How the prosecutor proves knowledge is probably beyond the scope of Personal Finance and Money Stack Exchange, though I imagine it tends to commonly be done so by showing the person doesn't normally have that much money in their account.

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Ah good point about the size of the amount compared to what could normally be expected to be in the account. – Michael Feb 26 at 21:53

Insufficient funds will cause a check to bounce. If there is evidence that you "kited" the check deliberately, that's a potential fraud charge. If the vendor accepts that you were just stupid/careless, you'll probably just have to pay a penalty processing fee in addition to making good the payment.

It is your responsibility to track your account balance and not write bad checks. If the timing could be bad, don't write the check yet. If you insist on paying with money you may not have, talk to your bank about setting up overdrafts to draw from another account, or automatic overdraft loans... or use a credit card rather than paying by check.

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There is no difference they are both insufficient in 1 form or another.Bad slang for any check the bank won't cash, for any reason, Ie. insf. unreadable amount, acct or routing number, the acct.has been closed, or you didn't write the check(fraud). Bounced is slang for bank returned check unpaid.I wrote a bad check but it didn't bounce.The check is still insufficient but the bank didn't return it. $500.00 is the felony threshold in okla. less than $500.00 is a misdemeanor. but insf. fees ranging from ($25.00 to $50.00 vendor returned check fee + amount of check) x (bank insf fees of $25 to $50)is an effective deterent.

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