What Happens if You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check In Your Bank?

In this guide, we'll go over what happens when you deposit a fake check (and if you're responsible for the money), how to recognize common check scams, and what to do if you spot fraud.

What Happens if You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check

In 2021, Americans reported more than 39,000 compound check losses to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at a cost of $78 million. Worse, 20-year-olds were also more likely to be victims of confirmed check scams.

What Happens if You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check

If you deposit a fake check by mistake, here's what happens:
  • You can check deposits at your bank, ATM, or by using the Mobile Banking website.
  • In accordance with federal law, selected options will be available to banks within one or two business days. This is often the bank's chance to verify whether the account or check is authenticated.
  • After you deposit the money (and specify it in the Spent or Sent to someone field), the bank looks at the check and finds it's not valid.
  • Then, the bank deducts the amount of the canceled check from your account, and you may be charged a fee.
  • Due to the federal Expedited Funds Available Act (EFAA), any funds are available to customers within a set amount of time, usually 24 hours. However, it may take several days or weeks before the contents of the check become known. And in the meantime, you may have already spent the money.

When you receive the money and your bank discovers that the check has been tampered with, it becomes check scam.

What Are the Consequences of Depositing a Fake Check? 

Many people who deposit fraudulent checks are unwitting victims. But depositing counterfeit checks, even if you don't realize it, can have serious consequences:

  • You may have to return the full amount of the check. In most cases, once the check is found to be fraudulent, the amount will be recovered from your bank account. Worse, the bank may charge you additional fees for processing the counterfeit check.
  • You will lose any money sent to the scammer. While in some cases you may be able to request a chargeback on a fraudulent transaction, once you send it on to a scammer, your chances of getting any money back are slim.
  • Your bank may close or freeze your account. Banks routinely freeze or close accounts for suspicious activity, including attempts to pass bad checks.
  • You may have to pay an overdraft or late fee. If you spend the money you received and are then charged for the full check amount, your account may be overdrawn. In this case, you may be charged an overdraft fee by your bank, or a late fee if you miss the bill.
  • This can harm your credit score. If you depend on checks to pay bills that come due, you may miss their due dates. Because payment history makes up 35% of your credit score, missing even a single bill can cause permanent damage.
  • Your banking history may be tarnished. A history of fraudulent check deposits may result in banks and credit unions denying you a checking account.
  • You could face jail time. Depending on your state, you could face criminal penalties for a misdemeanor or even a felony for depositing a counterfeit check with intent to defraud. However, if you are the victim of a scam, you are unlikely to face fines or jail time.

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