What Is Check Kiting?


Check kiting is a type of financial fraud that can have severe consequences for both individuals and businesses. It involves exploiting the float time between banks to create fraudulent balances. Understanding check kiting is crucial to avoid legal troubles and ensure financial security.

man writing check

Key Takeaways

  • Check kiting involves exploiting the float time between bank accounts to create false balances.
  • It is illegal and can result in severe legal, financial, and reputational consequences.
  • Being vigilant and adopting ethical banking practices can help prevent check kiting.

Definition of Check Kiting

Check kiting is a form of fraud where a person writes a check from an account with insufficient funds and deposits it into another account. The person then writes another check from the second account back to the first account before the first check bounces, creating an illusion of sufficient funds.

Historically, check kiting became more prevalent with the advent of personal checking accounts and the delay in processing checks. Legally, check kiting is considered a serious offense and can result in criminal charges, including fines and imprisonment.

How Check Kiting Works

Check kiting involves a cycle of writing and depositing checks between two or more accounts to inflate account balances artificially. The key to this scheme is the float time, the period it takes for a check to clear and be debited from the account.

Typically, individuals or businesses facing financial difficulties might resort to check kiting. However, this illegal activity can also involve unscrupulous individuals attempting to exploit the system for quick gains. The affected parties are usually banks, businesses, and individuals who may suffer financial losses as a result.

Signs of Check Kiting

Identifying check kiting can be challenging, but there are several red flags to watch out for:

  1. Frequent large deposits and withdrawals: One of the primary signs of check kiting is the regular deposit of large checks followed by equally large withdrawals. This pattern suggests that the funds are being cycled through the accounts to create artificial balances.
  2. Multiple accounts with inter-account transactions: Check kiting often involves multiple accounts at one or more banks. Look for frequent transactions between these accounts, especially when there is no substantial external income or business activity to justify the transfers.
  3. Maintaining balances through continuous deposits and withdrawals: If an account balance is consistently maintained through a cycle of deposits and withdrawals without any genuine revenue or income, it may indicate check kiting. The account holder may be using one bank’s float time to cover shortfalls in another account.
  4. Non-substantial external income: Accounts showing significant activity without corresponding legitimate income sources should raise suspicion. This is often a key indicator that funds are being manipulated rather than earned.

Examples of Check Kiting

Check kiting can occur in various forms, ranging from simple to complex schemes. Here are a few illustrative examples:

Simple Example

Imagine John has two bank accounts, A and B. He writes a check for $1,000 from Account A (which has insufficient funds) and deposits it into Account B. Before the check from Account A bounces, he writes another check for $1,000 from Account B and deposits it into Account A, creating an artificial balance in both accounts. This cycle continues, misleading banks about the actual funds available.

Complex Example

Suppose a business owner, Jane, is struggling to meet payroll. She writes a series of checks from her business account, knowing there are insufficient funds, and deposits them into her personal account. She then writes checks from her personal account back to her business account. By repeatedly cycling funds between the accounts, she temporarily inflates the balances to cover expenses. This scheme can continue until a check bounces, revealing the insufficient funds and fraudulent activity.

Real-World Case Study

There have been several high-profile cases of check kiting, such as the scandal involving E. F. Hutton & Co. in the 1980s. The company engaged in a massive check kiting scheme to cover its cash flow shortages.

E. F. Hutton wrote checks from multiple accounts across different banks, creating artificial balances that were used to fund daily operations. When the scheme was discovered, it led to significant legal penalties, including fines and sanctions, and eventually contributed to the firm’s downfall.

Consequences of Check Kiting

The repercussions of engaging in check kiting are severe and multifaceted. Here are some of the primary consequences:

Legal Consequences

Check kiting is illegal and considered a form of bank fraud. Legal consequences can include criminal charges, hefty fines, and imprisonment. Convictions can also result in a permanent criminal record, affecting future employment opportunities and financial credibility.

Financial Consequences

The financial impact of check kiting can be severe. Banks may close accounts, impose fines, and seek restitution for losses incurred. Individuals and businesses caught kiting checks may face financial ruin due to legal fees, fines, and the loss of banking privileges.

Reputational Consequences

Engaging in check kiting can severely damage an individual’s or business’s reputation. Trust is a cornerstone of financial relationships, and being associated with fraudulent activities can lead to a loss of credibility and future opportunities.

How to Prevent Check Kiting

Preventing check kiting involves vigilance and proactive measures from individuals, businesses, and banks. Here are some strategies for prevention:

For Individuals

To avoid being a victim or unintentionally engaging in check kiting, individuals should:

  • Monitor their account balances regularly.
  • Avoid writing checks when funds are insufficient.
  • Be wary of schemes promising easy money through check transactions.

For Businesses

Businesses can prevent check kiting by:

  • Implementing strict internal controls and regular audits.
  • Training employees to recognize and report suspicious activities.
  • Using electronic payments to reduce reliance on checks.

Banking Practices

Banks play a crucial role in preventing check kiting by:

  • Implementing real-time monitoring systems to detect suspicious transactions.
  • Holding funds for verification on large deposits.
  • Educating customers about the risks and signs of check kiting.


Check kiting is a serious financial fraud involving the manipulation of the float time between bank accounts to create false balances. Understanding this practice is essential to protect yourself and your business from legal and financial repercussions.

Vigilance and adherence to ethical banking practices are crucial in preventing check kiting. By being aware of the signs and consequences, individuals and businesses can maintain financial integrity and avoid the severe penalties associated with this fraudulent activity.

Stay informed and proactive in managing your finances. Regularly review your bank statements, be cautious with check transactions, and report any suspicious activity to your bank immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is check kiting illegal?

Yes, check kiting is illegal and considered a form of bank fraud. It can result in criminal charges, fines, and imprisonment.

What are the penalties for check kiting?

Penalties for check kiting can include criminal charges, fines, restitution, and imprisonment. Convictions can also result in a permanent criminal record.

How can I protect myself from check kiting?

To protect yourself, monitor your account balances, avoid writing checks with insufficient funds, and be cautious of schemes involving check transactions.

What should I do if I suspect check kiting?

If you suspect check kiting, report it to your bank immediately. They can investigate the activity and take appropriate action to prevent further fraud.

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