How do you respond to a friend forging your checks?
November 9, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

My friend attempted to cash some forged checks of mine and was arrested. What now?

Last week, a friend was in town from across the country to figure out where to relocate and I let him stay at my place for a few days. I had a great time showing him around the city, and as late as yesterday afternoon, we were txting about his imminent return today. Last night, I received a volley of calls my bank and the police indicating that someone had attempted to cash one of my checks with an obviously forged signature at least twice before being arrested.

The news left me numb. I guess I should feel betrayed, but he wasn't a close friend by any stretch - I'd say I'm a pretty warm host for anyone who passes by. I don't feel victimized. If anything, I feel sad that whatever situation he was in led to him being desperate enough to do what he did, mere hours after communicating with me and mere hours before hopping on a plane to start a new life. Is this reaction completely out of whack?

The second issue is: what comes next? From some cursory reading, forgery is a felony crime. I don't know how having essentially stolen a couple of checks and potentially forging signatures on both factors into this from the standpoint of increasing the crime's severity. I have no desire to involve myself in the aftermath aside from stating the facts about what happened, which I have already volunteered to the police. What will my inaction entail? Will the system continue to prosecute him? I am pretty distraught over the idea that he may be going to jail over this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am pretty distraught over the idea that he may be going to jail over this.

Put it this way: by trying to cash those checks, this "friend" was trying to steal money from you. Ethically, there's no difference between what he did and taking cash from your wallet or jewelry from your bedroom. Whoever it is is no friend to you.
posted by The Michael The at 8:13 AM on November 9, 2010 [19 favorites]

I am pretty distraught over the idea that he may be going to jail over this.

Why do you feel this way? This is a situation where punitive punishment is necessary, for society's benefit. You, personally, are allowed to forgive him. No one can tell you that you should harbor resentment against him. However, objectively, he broke the law with full intent. Unless your problem is with the law itself let yourself forgive him for what he's done and let the system take over from here. This a man who needs to be punished and we live in a society where you are lucky enough that you do not have to do the punishing. Your action or inaction is irrelevant as far as the facts are concerned.
posted by griphus at 8:17 AM on November 9, 2010 [14 favorites]

Basically, you have no real control over what the state chooses to do. The prosecutor (in the US) does not represent the victim; the prosecutor represents the state. You can complicate the prosecutor's job by refusing to cooperate, but you can't really make them not go forward with a case. Frankly, in this sort of situation, where you have already made a statement to the police, and there are forged checks and cashiers and all sorts of other people who will likely cooperate, you won't do much to stop the case by refusing to cooperate any further. Especially if you don't live where the prosecution is taking place.

You can try to talk to his attorney about testifying in his behalf at sentencing, or sending a victim impact statement, which may help. Without knowing more (what state is prosecuting him, what his criminal background is, what amounts were involved, whether those courts accept victim impact statements in nonviolent offenses), it's hard to say what a possible sentence is, much less what a likely sentence is.

It probably feels like a cop-out to you, but you are not responsible for what happens. You did not even report the checks stolen. You were simply honest when asked about what happened. I hope he is treated fairly by the system.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:20 AM on November 9, 2010 [7 favorites]

Since it's a felony, doesn't that mean that you are legally required to testify as to the events that took place? That removes you from culpability for his going to jail...unless you're willing to defy the authorities and refuse to testify.

The facts will speak for themselves and he will either go to jail or not. If not, I do hope you will have the strength to protect yourself from this person.
posted by bovious at 8:20 AM on November 9, 2010

Regarding your first question, no, your reaction isn't out of whack. However, this JUST happened and I wonder if maybe the hurt and upset of the situation will hit you later.

Personally I wouldn't be distraught over the idea that he may be going to jail from this. Clearly he is in a bad way psychologically and personally, his life is way way off track, and he just committed a serious crime against someone that was a friend. Whatever the root cause behind this, it sounds like he needs some time away from those factors to maybe get a sobering view of his life. Whether or not jail is the best place for that is a separate debate. Also, I believe there need to be consequences. Who knows if he has or will do this to someone else, but I will bet that if there are no real consequences for attempting to steal from you then the likelihood of him doing it again to someone else are increased, and that someone probably won't take it in stride like you are.
posted by gwenlister at 8:20 AM on November 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

The criminal justice system is already in motion, you may be called to testify, he may plead guilty, no one here can know exactly what will happen. You will almost certianly be contacted by either the prosecutor or a defense lawyer.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:21 AM on November 9, 2010

Not a lawyer, but the decision to prosecute or not isn't up to you. By telling the police that you don't want to push it, you've done as much for him as you can. If the bank he attempted to defraud feels the same way, the prosecutor may not think it's worth his time either, and will likely just try for a fast plea to some minor charge to get off his desk but still marked as a win. If the bank wants to push it, it'll likely result in a plea to something slightly more serious. Either way, you've done what you can to be nice to the guy.
posted by tyllwin at 8:21 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Right on, The Michael The. His "being desperate enough" is totally not your problem, and you can't solve it; he's got some deep, deep issues going on. There's a well-known story of a man who, while in a manic episode, trashed his neighbor's house and was taking a bath when the neighbor came home. Some people protested, saying, "but he was in a manic episode! He was off his medication! People should have compassion!" But more people said, "you know what? That doesn't give him the right to trash a house and traumatize the neighbor!" There comes a point when you just have to draw the line and protect yourself. This is one of those times.
posted by Melismata at 8:23 AM on November 9, 2010

Without having met the person in question it is difficult to assess his psychological state with any precision, but I do know that there are people in this world who care nothing about others and who always act out of complete selfishness. It may be true as you suggest that he forged a check out of terrible desperation, but it may also be that he just saw an opportunity to steal money from your bank account, and did not want to pass up that opportunity. Some people are quite happy to steal whatever they can whenever they can, without having to be desperate. They are just professional parasites.

IF this person were actually your friend, as you still call him, and if he was in desperate need of money, he should have just asked you for money. Stealing a check and forging your signature is inexcusable, regardless of how desperate he may have been. That is not acceptable. I do not believe that this person is your friend or deserves to be considered as such. He is a person who pretended to be your friend in order to take advantage of you.

As far as what involvement may be required in the future in these events, you have already told the facts of the matter to the police and you may in the future be required to testify in court. Your moral and legal obligation is to tell the truth. That is all.

You should not be distraught over the idea that this person may be going to jail. Sending this person to jail serves two useful purposes. While in jail, he will have less opportunity to commit further crimes against members of the general public. And he will discover that crime has its risks, and he may thereby be inspired to adopt a more honest strategy in the future. In any event, you have done nothing to this person (indeed, you showed him only kindness and generosity by giving him free housing). He commited a crime against you, for which he is responsible. He is the one who should be distraught, not you. Let him learn that his actions have consequences. Some people need to learn things the hard way.
posted by grizzled at 8:24 AM on November 9, 2010 [13 favorites]

Your "friend" is not only involved in forgery, but check fraud, which may be worse depending on where you are.

Anonymous: "From some cursory reading, forgery is a felony crime."

Again, depending on where you are, this is not automatically the case. In CA, for example, prosecutors have discretion to charge it as a felony or misdemeanor (a "wobbler").
posted by mkultra at 8:24 AM on November 9, 2010

Forgive and forget, by which I mean: Forgive him his trespass (it seems you have already done this), and forget he exists. Inviting him back into your life is inviting more of this kind of treatment from him, and even if you think he deserves sympathy - and he does - fixing whatever issues made him the kind of person who'd do this to a trusting friend is really far out of your power.

Tell the cops you don't want to be involved further and try to forget you ever met the guy.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:25 AM on November 9, 2010 [8 favorites]

The issue here is that he didn't just steal from you. He brought in a third party, the bank.
I'd say the good news for you is that you don't have to confront him about him stealing your money. The bank and the police have taken care of what could have been a really unpleasant conversation. You seem like a really kindhearted person, and there are people in this world who meet a kindhearted person and see a victim.
Forgery is a felony, and yes, this guy is probably going to see the inside of the jail. You have no say in this-- the bank is not going to take the abuse of the checks that it issues lightly.
Still, from the look of it, it seems like you need to think hard about how you let people into your life. It's one thing to be an open, welcoming person, and another thing to be available to any person who wanders in. It is not a bad thing to have boundaries, and to protect your space from people with whom you have not developed a great deal of trust.
posted by pickypicky at 8:27 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even if you really don't care about this yourself, or maybe you aren't in a sore spot for money, what if he goes on to do this to someone else whom is in a bad place with money? What if he causes someone a couple of hundred dollars in bank fees that don't get straightened out for a few weeks after? Yes, this guy did something wrong, and yes, he should feel the consquences. Otherwise, why wouldn't he just do this again?
posted by kellyblah at 8:27 AM on November 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

I used to do crime victim options counseling. In that capacity, I will tell you to deal with your feelings first-- don't worry about what the police are doing or the consequences for your friend. The process will take its course and there's likely not much you can do to influence it one way or another.

What matters now is that you take care of yourself. Your feelings will probably change a lot over the coming days and weeks. Please be easy on yourself and make sure you have a support network to listen to you.
posted by vincele at 8:28 AM on November 9, 2010 [7 favorites]

Some "friend!" Let him take his medicine, and don't give it any more of your concern.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:28 AM on November 9, 2010

Echoing the above, most states have statutorily defined victim rights, and (assuming you live in one of these states) the prosecution likely has to contact you prior to any plea negotiations. This isn't to say they will do what you say, but they will at least speak with you. You may wish to contact your county District Attorney and identify yourself as a victim and ask to speak with their intake worker.
posted by greasy_skillet at 8:29 AM on November 9, 2010

Sometimes the kindest thing one person can do for another is to allow him to experience the unmitigated consequences of his actions.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:33 AM on November 9, 2010 [45 favorites]

This happened in my family. We (the victims) had absolutely no association to the criminal process. Nobody called us, asked us to witness, told us anything about the case, kept us informed, nothing. The only thing I knew is when the perp called to ask for a ride home from the jail as they let him out.

Also - go look at your physical checkbook(s) and manually count through all the pages. Check thieves take random checks from deep inside the book so that you won't notice they are gone. Contact your bank if you see more missing than just the one they caught him with.
posted by CathyG at 8:45 AM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

A perfectly reasonable alternative to your apparent belief that this person is in the midst of some sort of personal crisis who succumbed to a momentary temptation is that this person was continuing an established pattern of behavior and that he specifically targeted you as an object of theft from the get-go. If I were you instead of trying to guess his fate at the hands of the legal system (which will be impossible to determine from research and is beyond your control anyway) I would be getting acquainted with how to be alert for identity theft. You have no idea how else this person may have violated your trust, and there is an established criminal market for exploitable personal information.
posted by nanojath at 8:47 AM on November 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

You have a certain moral standards (and you seem to be a good person), and you would never resort to such behavior unless you were in an extremely desperate situation. You're assuming that that's the case with your "friend". It's extremely likely that it's not. He knowingly and intentionally betrayed your trust. Don't waste your time worrying about him.
posted by Neekee at 8:53 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

The prosecution will almost certainly be contacting you and asking you to testify. Without your testimony, they won't be able to make their case against him because they're be no way to prove that the signatures on the check aren't yours. You don't really have a choice about whether or not to testify; the state can issue a subpoena that compels you to testify.

If you'd rather not see this guy go to jail, you can do a couple things. One, be willing and ready to speak to his attorney. Two, if he pleads or is convicted, speak up at sentencing. Tell what you know about the guy, what you know about why this happened, and explain that you're not upset and that you don't feel victimized. This is probably the most helpful thing you can do; defendants with outraged victims who tell the court how violated they feel are much more likely to go to jail. Obviously this only helps in some cases; if he's done this 20 times before, he's going to jail.

Finally, I'd say that you shouldn't feel bad about not wanting the guy to go to jail. People make mistakes, and forgiving them for those mistakes is not a character flaw. There's also nothing wrong with forgiving him, helping him out in court, and never seeing him again.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:56 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm distraught for you that a guest in your home decided to steal from you.

He's not a very bright criminal. When you saw the checks on your bank statement, you'd know you hadn't written them. You'd see the location where they were cashed and have a very good idea of who'd done it. Also, he tried several times to pass your checks? Not the brightest criminal mind.

He committed a crime. He got caught. He'll bear the repercussions. You were the victim of his crime. That's your only role in his mess.
posted by 26.2 at 8:57 AM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I guess I should feel betrayed

To go against the grain and give the guy a tiny shred of doubt-benefit, he could have assumed that your bank would be on the hook for the forged checks, had he gotten away with cashing them, and that you would only be out some frustration rather than actual cash.

Still a bad move on his part, but I've seen people justify stealing from someone they know because they knew a bank would end up taking the financial hit in the end.

Which is all the more reason to watch for ID theft issues; unless you are planning on applying for a new loan soon, I'd recommend getting a fraud hold on your credit report.
posted by nomisxid at 9:02 AM on November 9, 2010

anonymous: Is this reaction completely out of whack?

No, it isn't. We had something similar happen in our house and my reaction was and continues to be the same. I chalk it up to an interesting life experience that gave me an interesting story to tell later. It's totally okay not to feel victimised and to not be angry, but instead be sad about the circumstances and choices of this person. You do not have to be angry just because other people are encouraging you to find your inner self-righteousness.

What will my inaction entail? Will the system continue to prosecute him? I am pretty distraught over the idea that he may be going to jail over this.

I'm not sure, to be honest - we never reported our house-guest. But know that if the DA and/or the bank decides to pursue this, you can take the tact that you are doing what is required of you by law as a citizen of the realm. Compliance is not intent.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:08 AM on November 9, 2010

I am pretty distraught over the idea that he may be going to jail over this.

Would you be distraught, or do anything to try and 'save' him if the checks had belonged to someone else, and you were not involved at all? Because, really, you aren't. You just happened to be the person whose checks were taken. The person is a friend (although obviously not a particularly good friend, in any way you'd like to parse that) and it's a bummer that a friend is in legal trouble, but hey: it happens. Click your tongue, shake your head and move on.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:16 AM on November 9, 2010

We had over $1 million dollars in forged checks written by a string of people who passed my husband's stolen checks around amonst them. We got a call a year later that some were arrested. Do we feel bad? Hellz no.

By sitting as a bystander and/or do nothing regarding trials, etc. you are allowing him to do that to other people. You are saying "yea sure, stealing is cool, fun, do what you want" while you work hard, pay your bills, and allow people to walk all over you.

I think this is a bigger issue than getting a bad check forged. You need to go into therapy and figure out why you let someone take advantage of you.

He made his choice. No one forced him to write the checks, which he well knew that would end of in a jail sentence if caught.
posted by stormpooper at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2010

He is no friend. He knowingly did something that, if he succeeded, would hurt you. If he had brought a stranger (to you) a girlfriend, say, and she had stolen the checks, would you feel bad about the consequences to her?
posted by bilabial at 9:27 AM on November 9, 2010

I want you to ponder for a moment the possibility that everything this person told you is a lie. He is not and never was your friend. You were his mark and he was running a con. Do not feel sorry for him.
posted by chairface at 9:31 AM on November 9, 2010 [11 favorites]

How would *I* respond to a person forging my checks? With a right hook!

Seriously, this is a deal-breaker for all types of friendships and relationships. He'll be lucky if the only thing he gets is jailed, because he also deserves your foot up his ass! Simply put, you should be more angry. And he should be in prison.

(No one ever accused me of a lack of bluntness, when called for.)
posted by Citrus at 9:52 AM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

There is a woman who wrote a book about your perspective (philosophy?) on this type of issue. I think it was Terry Cole Whittaker, the book may have been Living Your Bliss -or- What You Think Of Me Is None Of My Business.

In an interview I heard, she tells a story where she was about to be raped or brutally mugged or some such, and her reaction towards her attacker was, "Oh, no! Why would you want to do that to yourself?"

Her perspective was that even if she got hurt, the attacker hurt himself more. And by recognizing this dynamic as true, she saved herself this and many other troubles. Sorta that AA "keep your side of the street clean" thing, but to an extreme degree.

That's what your AskMe reminded me of. Your big question in the aftermath of the check fraud is, "Why would he do that to himself?"

I'm not suggesting you read Whittakers books or anything (I haven't!) but I have taken the stance she promotes from time to time in my own life when someone has really hurt me, and I've found instant relief from any feelings of victimization or revenge by doing so.

In short, I think your reaction is quite sane and healthy. Just don't take it too far by paying this guy's bail or anything - OK?
posted by jbenben at 10:46 AM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

What happens next depends on his prior criminal record and how interested the bank is in pursuing it, because you don't want to be a witness, which I understand. Forgery offenses vary by state -- in Texas, there are both misdemeanor and felony provisions, for example. Also, do you know he's been charged with forgery? Even if he has here are a lot of less serious offenses he might plead to, as most cases result in guilty pleas and many have plea agreements as a result of defects in proof, or wanting to give a first-time offender a break, or good lawyering. The fact that the police are involved is in no way a guarantee that he will be charged with and found guilty of forgery and spend significant time in prison.

You feel how you feel about it, but your feelings may change with time. As things develop, you may learn some things about your friend that may change your mind.
posted by *s at 10:52 AM on November 9, 2010

As others have said, he's not going to jail because of you. He's going to jail because of himself.

Or maybe he isn't going to jail, if he mounts a convincing defense. Who knows? The point is, only the theft is about you--the legal consequences aren't about you at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:57 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even if you really don't care about this yourself, or maybe you aren't in a sore spot for money, what if he goes on to do this to someone else whom is in a bad place with money?

This a thousand times. Your feelings about what he did to you are immaterial; you owe it to his potential future victims to see that he is prosecuted as vigorously as the law allows.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:02 PM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd probably downgrade him to an acquaintance, and involve myself as little as possible, except if given the opportunit to say that you don't feel like a victim and you would rather he didn't go to jail.

I don't think you owe it to anyone to make sure that he's prosecuted - leave that to the state, it's what people pay taxes for.
posted by plonkee at 1:20 PM on November 9, 2010

I didn't see this voiced in the quick scan of the previous answers but I would hope your response includes any/all actions requested (even if this means going the extra mile) by law enforcement.

This person did this to you and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Anything less and he/she will be that much more likely to do it again to another unsuspecting 'friend'.

I look upon things like this as more detrimental to the 'good-will' reserves of the planet than as felonious acts in and of themselves. That doesn't make them any less serious.

Good luck.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think you owe it to anyone to make sure that he's prosecuted - leave that to the state, it's what people pay taxes for.

That's like saying, "Don't vote because the state will choose your political representatives."

This isn't a Kafka novel; the state is US. You and me. Even if not compelled to testify as a witness/victim, you have a duty to do so if it can help the state's case.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:42 PM on November 9, 2010

What *s said. Also nthing others that your assumption that he was driven to this by desperation is a curious one, as he always had the option of simply asking. I would also point out that you say you had a good time with him, which suggests he did not have the demeanour of a desperate person.

I'd add to that that using your checks, and trying to cash them, might not be stupidity so much as cockiness, and perhaps an inverse thank-you note for your hospitality. Perhaps this is his way of saying, "so long, sucker!" to you.

I am not suggesting you change your feelings, they are what they are and if this isn't all that upsetting to you, great. But I do think any sympathy you have for him is misplaced.
posted by tel3path at 2:44 PM on November 9, 2010

Anonymous' response by proxy:
Thanks to everyone for their replies.

My sentiments were captured perfectly by what jbenben wrote. More than anything else involving this incident, I just want to know *why* he did it. It was a tremendously stupid thing to do. If he had asked, I would have helped him out. If he had succeeded in cashing the checks, he would have been caught within days. Yet he attempted it not just once, but twice at the same location. In any case, like DarlingBri, I'll chalk this up as an interesting experience and move on. Barring any weird surprises, this hasn't changed much for me. I'll continue to work hard, enjoy life, and lend a helping hand whenever I can.

I definitely see the point of view of everyone who says any "sympathy", for lack of a better word, is deeply misplaced. I would honestly feel differently if the victim had been someone else or the perpetrator had been someone I did not know, and I appreciate being reminded of the fact that letting this go unpunished could lead to others falling victim to the same crime.

I spoke to the arresting officer briefly last night and a person in the Financial Crimes unit investigating the incident this afternoon. I laid out the facts and indicated that I would be comfortable with whatever the DA decided to do but had no desire to take additional action of my own. Apparently, the perpetrator has no prior record. I was told that the DA would make a decision as to whether to prosecute, and for what, by tomorrow, and that I would be informed at that time. Hopefully there'll be some closure soon.

(vvv thanks to my proxy here)
posted by MangyCarface at 8:29 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just a quick aside, have you done an inventory of your house for spare cash, watches, small electronics and other valuables? There is no reason to believe that your house guest didn't help himself to more than your checkbook. Oh, and as mentioned above look at the whole book to see if there are missing ones out of order.
posted by saradarlin at 9:35 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe I'm naive (and forgive the slight derailment) but why wouldn't the DA prosecute? Assuming they have enough information to arrest and that nothing spectacular has come up, of course.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:06 PM on November 11, 2010

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