If a bad check is written on a closed account and the merchant turns it over to a collection agency, can they pursue criminal action?

Over the last 4 years I have written a lot of bad checks, some on closed accounts. I have paid 75% of them, the ones that sent me 5 day letters mostly, but still have old ones that were sent to collection agencies, some on my credit report now. I have heard that once a merchant chooses this route, they waive the right to criminally pursue the matter, is this true? Also, how long do they have to pursue a bad check? I have a couple that just asked me to pay and I heard nothing. A couple that I never heard anything from about the check? I also have multiple from the same merchant sent to collect.

Asked on July 31, 2010 under Criminal Law, Michigan


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

1) Trying to collect on a check, including by either sending it to collections or selling the debt to a collections agency, has no effect on criminal liabilty. If you committed a criminal act, you could potentially be prosecuted regardless of whether and how anyone tries to collect.

2) If you wrote bad checks knowing the account was closed or that there were insufficient funds, you committed  a crime. That knowledge--that the check would not be honored--is what makes it criminal.

3) How long a merchant has to pursue the matter depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the underlying transaction and the state (not just your state; potentially you could be sued in the merchant's state, too). It's often at least 3, potentially 6, years, but both longer and shorter periods are not unheard of. You'd need to consult with an attorney about specific cases or instances for an answer.

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