Incomplete Checks Seized by CBP in Detroit

A copy of the notice of seizure and intent to forfeit featuring the case of the incomplete check seized by CBP

On May 10, someone at the land border between Detroit and Canada attempted to bring into or leave the country with a check for $50,000 that was blank – in that it did not have a payee — in other words, the payee in the “pay to the order of” section of the check was blank. That’s what you call an “incomplete instrument” in legal-speak, or we’ll call it an incomplete check for our purposes.

Incomplete checks fall under the general monetary instrument reporting requirements that Customs enforces at all ports of entry through the United States. In fact, incomplete checks are specifically identified as being part of the monetary instruments that must be reported to customs, apart from cash. 31 CFR 1010.100(dd)(iv) states the monetary instruments include ….”incomplete instruments (including personal checks, business checks, official bank checks, cashier’s checks, third-party checks, promissory notes (as that term is defined in the Uniform Commercial Code), and money orders) signed but with the payee’s name omitted“.

So Last Friday, U.S. Customs & Border Protection at the Port of Detroit noticed its seizure and intention to forfeit a check (a/k/a a negotiable instrument) valued at $50,000. The notice is as follows:


2016380100064801-001-0000, Seized on 05/10/2016; At the port of DETROIT, MI; CHECK (SIGNED WITHOUT PAYEE); 1; EA; Valued at $50,000.00; For violation of 31USC5317, 31USC5316, 31CFR1010.340(A)

I bet this person thought they could get around the reporting requirement by not completing the payee on the check, just like the many people who think they can get around the reporting requirement by dividing the money through structuring.

They might also be under the mistaken impression that they will cancel the check, and CBP will not be able to keep the $50,000. But that is not what happens when CBP seizes a check; after seizure, CBP can “freeze” those funds in the bank account, or by otherwise getting access to the money, and by getting cooperation from the bank itself. Be warned.

Have you had a check seized by CBP?

If you have had a check seized by CBP you can learn more about the process from our trusted customs money seizure legal guide and can contact us for a free currency seizure consultation by clicking the contact buttons on this page.