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For legal purposes, are imaged checks equivalent to the original check?

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One question that has come up quite a bit in our bank, and we haven't found an answer, is what happens if we only retain the image copies of our customer's checks and the customer gets audited by the IRS and needs copies of some of them to prove certain payments? Will the image copies be acceptable to the IRS in lieu of the originals? Can you point me to any law, regulation, etc. on this?

The Federal Rules of Evidence, Article X, Rule 1003 Admissibility of Duplicates states A duplicate is admissible to the same extent as an original unless (1) a genuine question is raised as to the authenticity of the original or (2) in the circumstances it would be unfair to admit the duplicate in lieu of the original.

Unless there is a state law requiring such, it is my understanding that individual courts have a great deal of discretion as to whether or not they accept an imaged item. Stephanie Martin, managing senior counsel, Federal Reserve Board, Washington D.C. has been quoted as saying 'In most situations, [check images] are just as good as the original instrument. But banks shouldn't be telling people that [images] are bullet-proof, because they're not".

First published on 3/19/01

First published on 03/19/2001

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