A bad check is a check that you cannot cash because the person who wrote the check (1) doesn’t have sufficient funds to cover it, or (2) told the bank to stop payment on it without having a valid reason for doing so.
Writing a bad check is a crime if the check writer knew that there were insufficient funds to cover the check and intended to defraud you. It is also a crime to forge a check or write a fake check. If you believe you are a victim of criminal conduct, report this to the police department, sheriff’s office, or district attorney’s office.
You may also sue to recover the amount of a check if someone writes you a bad check without having a valid reason for doing so. You may also recover damages equaling three times the amount of the check, up to a maximum of $1,500, if you meet certain conditions:
- You must send a demand letter to the person who wrote the check. Send the letter by certified mail with a return receipt. You may use this sample “bad check” demand letter if someone wrote you a check without having sufficient funds. You may use this sample “stop payment” demand letter if someone stopped payment on a check without a valid reason.
- If the check writer does not pay you within 30 days, you may file a lawsuit. If your claim is for $10,000 or less, you must file in small claims court. If it is for more than $10,000, you must file in the civil division of the superior court. Note that different rules apply in small claims court and the superior court. For example, in small claims court, you are not allowed to have a lawyer represent you because small claims court is designed to resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively. In any event, at the court hearing, you or your lawyer should show the judge a copy of your demand letter and the signed certified mail receipt from the post office that proves you mailed the letter. You or your lawyer should also show the judge any documents related to your case, such as bank statements, receipts, letters or emails you exchanged with the check writer, and notes of any conversations you had with the check writer.
- You do not have to prove that the check writer intended to defraud you or wrote the bad check on purpose. However, if the check writer told the bank to stop payment on the check to resolve a good faith dispute, you may not be able to recover damages or other costs.