You cannot cash a photocopy of a check because if you photocopy a check, you are actually counterfeiting that item and state laws make it a criminal offense to pass counterfeit checks. However, in some instances you can cash a check even if you do not have the original, but only if your bank provides you with the substitute version of the check.
Valid checks must have certain characteristics such as an account number, the name of the check writer and the check writer's signature. You also have to include the amount of the check as both words and numbers, and date the check. Legally, there are no state or federal laws that state you have to print or write a check on a certain kind of paper, and in theory you could write a check on any kind of material and negotiate it at a bank.
Despite the fact that no laws require you to follow certain guidelines when producing checks, most banks only issue checks that are printed on special check paper. Additionally, bank check reading machines are only able to process checks that are of a certain size and all bank issued checks are printed with a special magnetic ink. When you deposit a check at your bank, the teller runs the check through a machine that recognizes the magnetic ink. Tellers can refuse to accept checks that the Magnetic Ink Character Recognition machine cannot read.
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In 2004, the Federal Reserve changed check processing rules and now allows banks to speed up the negotiation of checks by converting paper checks into electronic form. Consequently, merchants can scan your check and destroy the original. However, if a check bounces, your bank does not have the original to return to you. Banks create a substitute version of the check that looks much like a photocopy but has the account number printed on it using magnetic ink. You can cash or deposit these substitute checks without restriction.
If you have a check that somehow became damaged, you can ask the check writer to void it and provide you with a new check. If you cannot reach the check writer, you should take the check to the check writer's bank and explain that you need to negotiate it. The issuing bank may negotiate a damaged check or exchange it for a cashiers check. If you instead decide to photocopy it and take the photocopy to the bank, the teller will probably call the police and you may face charges for fraud.