In Law, what is a Paper Hanger?
A paper hanger is a slang term for a person who cashes bad checks, or writes bad checks for fraudulent purposes. This can be done in one of two primary ways. Either the person writes checks on an account he or she does not own, or the person writes the checks on accounts that do not exist or that do not have funds in them. Once the money is collected, the "paper hanger" leaves it to the bank to figure out how to collect.
In most cases, this type of fraud is prosecuted under forgery laws. It could also involve identity theft and other areas of law, depending on the specific situation. Depending on the jurisdiction, it may be possible to prosecute under federal law, or a law from a more localized jurisdiction, such as a state. In the United States, this may include prosecuting under a state statute.
The jurisdiction for a case involving a paper hanger may not be a simple matter, either. For example, if the fraudulent transaction takes place across state lines, then the interstate commerce clause of the U.S Constitution, found in Article 1, Section 8, may be invoked. This would make the case a federal one, as would a number of other circumstances, such as if the money were being used in a way that threatened national security.
The degree of crime may have different terminologies depending on the jurisdiction or country. For example, in the United States, crimes deemed less serious are known as misdemeanors, and more serious crimes are called felonies. Whether the paper hanger is prosecuted for a misdemeanor or felony often depends on the amount of damage caused. In some locations, as one example, any fraudulent check written for more than $500 US Dollars would be considered a felony.
Finding a paper hanger suspect can sometimes be difficult, as the individual in question may not only be using a fake bank account, but also a fake identity. Some banks, to help prevent such cases of fraud, have gone to requiring all those cashing checks who are not account holders to agree to a thumb print. This can help to some extent, but it is often still necessary to find the individual suspected so that a positive match can be verified. Often, video surveillance is ineffective because the individuals in question may not frequent the same financial institutions, and may operate in locations in which they do not live.
My landlady fell victim to a "paper hanger" a few years ago. He was a trusted family friend who did odd jobs around her house. One of those jobs was to make bank deposits for the landlady's elderly mother. This meant he had access to her checkbook, and he apparently wrote out a few unauthorized checks for himself. The problem was that the closest store that would cash them was my landlady's preferred grocery store.
The man's "paper hanging" scheme came to a screeching halt when the manager of the store took my landlady aside and asked her if her mother was in her right mind. She asked him why he would ask a personal question like that. He said he had cashed at least 5 checks for at least $500, and the same man presented them every time. That's when she realized her family friend was taking advantage of his position and ripping off her mother every week.
We just had a case in my town where a "paper hanger" got arrested for forging checks from a defunct company, but he wasn't cashing those checks himself. He paid at least 9 people an undisclosed amount of money to cash those fake checks at different stores around the county. I'm not sure what charges, if any, were brought against the people who actually presented the checks. I suppose they would be guilty of possessing a forged instrument, but it's possible they didn't really understand the illegality of his request at the time.
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