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A theft by check charge occurs when someone is paying with a check that is not covered by adequate funds (also known as a “bad check” or “hot check”) or it’s connected to a closed checking account. Regardless of whether the check writer intended to steal or they simply didn’t keep close tabs on their bank accounts, they could get a new criminal charge and an individual criminal case for every bounced check.
The law presumes the check writer's awareness of insufficient funds if:
If the services, property or cash are NOT exchanged for the invalid check at the time when the check is presented, then we’re not dealing with a theft case because it’s considered “an extension of credit.” Theft by check also happens when the check writer releases a Stop Payment Order or refuses to return the merchandise within 10 days after receiving a formal notice. If there was an extension of credit in place AND the check writer was aware of the lack of funds, then it’s a proper class C misdemeanor offense of Issuance of Bad Check.
A criminal “theft by check” case starts when the check recipient tries to cash the check and the bank informs them that the check bounced. The recipient can opt to go to the police and report it as a crime. If they do, the person who wrote the check will be charged with theft by check, and an arrest warrant will be issued on their name.
To prosecute the “hot check” writer, the victim must file a complaint and an Affidavit Stating Probable Cause in a Justice Court where the offender resides or where the check was issued. These documents have to contain enough information about the transaction to convince the judge that the check issued was indeed a bad one.
By law, whether it’s an honest mistake or not, writing a “hot check” is usually a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine that goes up to $500. If the payment is for child support, a bounced check will have the writer criminally charged with a Class B misdemeanor, meaning they’ll have to pay a $2,000 fine and they’ll be incarcerated for up to 6 months. If the amount is greater than $2500, many states see it as a felony. The state of Texas has some of the most severe penalties for theft by check, with very specific amount limits and ranges of punishments as below:
Since every check may contain critical information such as: Name, Address, Phone number, Bank’s name and address, Bank account number, Bank’s routing number, and Signature, all this sensitive personal data can fuel further criminal offenses broadly labeled as “check fraud.” Apart from theft by check, there are other types of check fraud, such as: