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Bad Checks

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 someone. (California Penal Code section 476a.) It is also a crime to forge a check or write a fake check. If you believe you are a victim of criminal conduct, you should report this to the police department, sheriff's office, or district attorney's office of the county where the conduct took place.

Under California Civil Code section 1719, you can 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:

  1. You must send a demand letter to the person who wrote the check. Send the letter by certified mail with a return receipt. In the letter, tell the check writer to pay you, within 30 days: 1) the amount of the check; 2) the cost of mailing the demand letter; and 3) any service fee your bank charged you for processing the bad check (up to $25 for the first check and $35 for each subsequent check). You must also tell the check writer about the provisions of California Civil Code section 1719. See below for sample demand letters.
  2. If the check writer does not pay you within 30 days, you can file a lawsuit. If your claim is for $10,000 or less, you can file in small claims court. If it is for more than $10,000, you must file in the civil division of the superior court.
  3. At the court hearing, show the judge a copy of the demand letter and the signed certified mail receipt from the post office that proves you mailed the letter. Also show the judge any other documents related to your case, such as bank statements, letters or emails you exchanged with the check writer, and notes of any conversations you had with the check writer.
  4. 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 put a stop payment on the check to resolve a good faith dispute, you may not be able to recover damages or other costs.

If you have questions or need legal assistance to resolve your dispute, you may want to consult an attorney. You may obtain a referral to a certified lawyer service by contacting the State Bar at (866) 442-2529 (toll-free in California) or (415) 538-2250 (from outside California), or at http://www.calbar.ca.gov. If you cannot afford a private attorney, you may wish to contact your local legal aid office. For a referral, please go to http://www.lawhelp.ca.org.


Sample Demand Letter: Insufficient Funds

Sent by Certified Mail

Date: _____ [write date]

_____ [write name of check writer]

_____ [write address of check writer]

Dear _____ [write name of check writer]:

_____ [write your name] is the payee of a check you wrote for $_____ [write amount of check] on _____ [write date of check]. The check was returned by _____ [write name of bank] because _____ [account had insufficient funds OR account was closed]. If you fail to pay me the full amount of the check in cash or by money order, plus $_____ [write the amount your bank actually charged to process the bad check, up to $25 for the first bad check and $35 for each subsequent bad check] in bank fees and $_____ [write the amount it cost to mail this letter by certified mail] for the cost of mailing this demand letter by certified mail, you could be sued and held responsible, under California Civil Code section 1719, to pay at least the following:

  1. The amount of the check;
  2. Damages of at least $100 or, if higher, three times the amount of the check, up to $1,500; and
  3. The cost to mail this letter.

Please send your payment to:

_____ [write your name]

_____ [write your full address]

_____ [write your email address and/or phone number]

You may wish to contact a lawyer to discuss your legal rights and responsibilities.

_____ [sign your name]


Sample Demand Letter: Stop Payment

Sent by Certified Mail

Date: _____ [write date]

_____ [write name of check writer]

_____ [write address of check writer]

Dear _____ [write name of check writer]:

_____ [write your name] is the payee of a check you wrote for $_____ [write amount of check] on _____ [write date of check]. The check was not paid because you stopped payment, and I demand payment. You may have a good faith dispute as to whether you owe the full amount. If you do not have a good faith dispute with me and fail to pay me the full amount of the check in cash or by money order, plus $_____ [write the amount your bank actually charged to process the bad check, up to $25 for the first bad check and $35 for each subsequent bad check] in bank fees and $_____ [write the amount it cost to mail this letter by certified mail] for the cost of mailing this demand letter by certified mail, you could be sued and held responsible, under California Civil Code section 1719, to pay at least the following:

  1. The amount of the check;
  2. Damages of at least $100 or, if higher, three times the amount of the check, up to $1,500; and
  3. The cost to mail this letter.

If the court determines that you do have a good faith dispute with me, you will not have to pay the service charge, treble damages, or mailing cost. If you stopped payment because you have a good faith dispute with me, you should try to work out your dispute with me. You can contact me at:

_____ [write your name]

_____ [write your full address]

_____ [write your email address and/or phone number]

Please send your payment to the address above. You may wish to contact a lawyer to discuss your legal rights and responsibilities.

_____ [sign your name]

Protecting Consumers

State & Federal Laws

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California Law

View a checklist of significant California consumer laws

CA Dept of Consumer Affairs

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