Has anyone cashed a check that says pay to the order of cash? That's legal, right?

Because I deposited it, and I got a deposit confirmation, and then later on they closed my account and removed the money without even notifying me.

What did I do wrong?

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    How did you get the check? Commented Jun 6 at 3:09
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    Note: "Gave the money back to someone else" could cover a fraudulent check, a bounced check, or the money might not ever have existed if this was a forged check that took some time to clear/validate. But without details of how you got the check, we can't say anything with certainty. Certainly there is no automatic "I have a check, therefore it is valid" rule; personal checks have almost no guarantees, and while a legitimate certified or cashier's check is generally pretty bulletproof, fraudulent ones can be mistaken for real for a while before being bounced back. Commented Jun 6 at 13:29
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    You probably need to learn about how cheques work before using phrases such as "legally it's mine". It isn't legally yours, that's why it is now gone.
    – Nelson
    Commented Jun 6 at 13:43
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    The answer to your actual question is "No, just because you found a check with an anonymous recipient does not mean that you can deposit it as if it were yours."
    – Turbo
    Commented Jun 6 at 20:18
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    A cheque is not money; a cheque is an instruction to transfer money — and that instruction may not get carried out for a variety of reasons (see below).  Also, the question title doesn't seem to match the actual concern here…
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 7 at 12:36

3 Answers 3


At least in the US: That's an old convention for a "bearer check", depositable to any account. Insecure, of course, but when checks were more common this was sometimes a desirable option.

There's a reference to this in Mel Brooks' movie, The Producers, where one of the women being swindled has the line (approximately) "I've made the check out to Cash, as you asked... That's a funny name for a show!"

HOWEVER, that is true only if the check was valid, properly signed and has not been stopped or bounced. If someone lost it and you found it, they probably immediately requested it be stopped, in which case the bank did exactly the right thing by pulling the money back, though it would have been polite for them to actively advise you that the check bounced.

The check could also have bounced for lack of funds in the account, or otherwise failed to go through.

In general, until a check actually clears through the system, you can't be absolutely sure the money will be there. Unless it is a cashier's check/bank check, written against the bank's assets rather than those of a depositor. And even then, if the check was altered or otherwise invalid, it will be rejected, even if it is initially accepted.

If someone sent you this check, you may have been scammed. See other questions with the "scam" tag for details of kited/fraudulent check abuses. If that is what happened, you can wave goodbye to any of your own money you put into the transaction; unless you report it and they catch the scam artist and:are able to recover any of the funds, you will never see it again.

If something looks suspicious, always stop to verify it in detail.

Forgery would also explain why the bank took the unusual step of closing your account. If they think you were deliberately trying to deposit a forged check, they don't want you as a customer. Ditto if this was the only money in the account, of course; having the very first deposit bounce would look extremely suspicious.

  • This is where the term "blank check" comes from, right?
    – qwr
    Commented Jun 7 at 0:02
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    No. A blank check is one that has been signed without the amount filled in, basically giving permission to write in any amount desired. Whether it is payable to someone specific or to cash is a separate question.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 7 at 1:30
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    Bouncing the check is quite normal if there is any issue with it. Closing the account means there's something fishy and the bank is suspecting OP of being part of the scam.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jun 7 at 13:00
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    Absent other problems as documented in this answer, bearer checks are legal in most U.S. jurisdictions (see UCC § 3-109 ). However, I'd be unsurprised by a bank flagging such checks as a high fraud risk. There's not much legitimate reason to use them.
    – Brian
    Commented Jun 7 at 13:35
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    I do find myself wondering where this check came from. The question's author hasn't told us that, which does make me suspect that they have either been scammed or were deliberately trying to deposit a forgery themselves.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 7 at 13:43

Yes, it is legal to deposit a cheque that says pay to the order of Cash. It is also legal to deposit a cheque that is payable to you. In neither case are you guaranteed that you actually have the money the cheque claims to provide you.

The cheque may have been stopped by the person who wrote it, either because they lost it or because they are deliberately trying to scam someone. The cheque may be forged. Or it may just have been written on an account that doesn't have enough money in it to cover the cheque. When any of these things (and many more possibilities) happen, the cheque fails to clear and the money that had been put into your account is removed. This is legal and how things work with banks. Ordinary cheques are not money, they are just the promise of money, and sometimes, that promise isn't kept.

This removal doesn't normally mean that they close your account, but it's possible the bank was concerned that your behaviour in this wasn't entirely up to their standards, so they would rather not have your business. This is also legal. You can ask the bank to explain further if you feel that you did nothing wrong, but I expect it would be quicker and easier to take your business to a different bank. And in the future, if someone wants to pay you by cheque, remember that it's only a promise of money. Many businesses no longer take cheques, and with good reason.

  • Isn't there a chance that the incident has been reported and that other banks would be aware of it and refuse opening an account?
    – jcaron
    Commented Jun 7 at 11:41
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    @jcaron: Cashing unauthorized checks will cause bank unhappiness regardless of whether the destination is "cash" or your name.
    – Brian
    Commented Jun 7 at 13:17
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    @jcaron Possibly. Involuntary closures don't show up on credit reports, but are frequently shared via reporting companies like ChexSystems or EWS. That's a separate question, though.
    – Jay McEh
    Commented Jun 7 at 21:01
  • Note that all payments other than physical currency (and, I suppose, movement of deposited funds between accounts held at the central bank) are also "not money, but just the promise of money." The differences are mostly in terms of how sure you are about that promise, and how quickly it will be reconciled. Checks are unusually insecure and slow (to reconcile) by modern standards, but all payments have some amount of "play" in them.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 9 at 1:49

There is no real difference between depositing a check made out to cash and a check made out to you personally, unless there is some suspicion that the check was stolen or obtained via fraud. Like any check, while the bank MIGHT give you immediate access to the funds on the premise of good faith, they have every legal right to revert that if the check is eventually not honored by the institution it was written on, for any of a number of reasons, the most innocuous and most common of which is that the writer does not have funds available to cover the check.

If you have a history of writing bad checks, or of depositing bad checks, then the bank might well not want your business any more; they might even report you to a central clearinghouse of undesirable bank customers.

You did not deposit MONEY, you deposited documentation of a promised financial transaction which did not come to pass.

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