How to Protect Yourself: Worthless Bank Checks
What is a Worthless Check?
Under Florida law, any checks returned “NSF” (non-sufficient funds), “Account Not Found” or “NSF Unless Otherwise Indicated is a worthless check subject to prosecution under Florida's criminal statutes. Checks stamped “Refer To Maker” or Uncollected Funds” may require additional investigation before being charged criminally.
Checks Stamped “Stop Payment” may be subject to criminal prosecution, but are typically legitimate means of dealing with a contractual dispute. They are commonly resolved in a small claims court civil suit. Checks returned “Unauthorized Drawer's Signature(s)” are usually forgeries signed by someone other than the owner of the checking account. These checks should be presented to the Sheriff's Office or local authorities for investigations.
Florida law gives the authority to prosecute the crime of passing worthless bank checks to the State Attorneys of Florida's 20 Judicial Circuits. The proper judicial circuit for the prosecution of this crime is usually the circuit in which the check was presented and accepted. The law requires that certain steps be taken by the recipient of a “worthless check” before the State Attorney begins prosecution.
If you are the victim of passing a worthless bank check, contact the State Attorney for the judicial circuit in which the check was accepted and they will assist you in the recovery process.
If you are the victim of a worthless check but the State Attorney cannot pursue the matter by prosecuting the crime, filing a civil suit in small claims court may be your best option. You should contact the Clerk of the Court for the county in which you accepted the check and he or she will assist you in the process.
What should I do to protect myself against being victimized by a worthless check?
Accepting a check as payment for goods or services is not mandatory. Insisting cash or certified checks and money orders is a legitimate option.
If you decide to accept check as a form of payment, follow these guidelines: •Do not accept post-dated checks (checks dated for future or indeterminate dates).
◦These checks cannot be prosecuted for the crime of passing a worthless bank check if a bank dishonors them, but such checks may be resolved by a civil suit in small claims court.
•Do not agree to hold a check, even for a few hours.
◦Accepting a check and agreeing to hold it indicates there are insufficient funds in the checking account at the time the check was presented, and if the check is dishonored by the bank, the matter cannot be prosecuted for the crime of passing a worthless bank check. The situation may be resolved in a small claims court civil suit.
•Do not accept third-party checks.
◦If the person who wrote the check is not the person responsible for payment, the check may stolen or forged.
•Ask for a form of picture identification–Driver's License or identification issued by a governmental agency.
◦Examine the card carefully to make sure it has not been altered, and that the person on the ID is the same person from whom you are accepting the check. Note: Fake ID cards can be purchased through the mail or over the internet. Pay close attention to holograms and minor details to ensure the legitimacy of the ID.
•Look for personal information on the check. If it is not already there, you may ask the person to write the following information on the front of the check:
◦Home telephone number:
◦Date of Birth:
◦Place of employment:
◦Employer's telephone number:
•Make sure that information appearing on the check is the same as the information appearing on the ID card.
•Make sure there is a signature on the check, and compare it with the signature on the ID card.
•Review the check carefully. Make sure the check is made out for the proper amount, and that the amount of the check written by numbers is the same as the amount in words.
•If the check presented is a company check or temporary check with no name or address printed on the check, have the person presenting the check PRINT their name under the signature line.
•Verify available funds by calling the financial institution that maintains the checking account.
◦Remember: It is possible for there to be sufficient funds at the time of a call, but insufficient funds before the check is processed.