Fraud encompasses a wide range of criminal offenses. A person commits fraud to gain a financial benefit or to escape culpability for a crime. Examples of fraud and related charges include:
- Defrauding welfare agencies
- Insurance fraud
- Counterfeiting documents or forging them
- Lying or committing perjury to obtain government or other benefits
- Real estate fraud
- Securities fraud
- Internet fraud
- Identity fraud
Some of these offenses may be charged as misdemeanors or felonies while others are federal crimes.
Elements of Fraud
Fraud generally consists of the following elements:
- Misrepresentation of a material fact
- Which the offender knew to be false
- Which the victim reasonably or justifiably relied on
- And the victim suffered a loss or damages
Here are some common fraud charges:
Health Care Insurance Fraud
Physicians, pharmacists, or hospital workers commit fraud by overcharging for services, charging for services or treatment that were never rendered, or for receiving payments from drug companies for prescribing their medications.
Patients who doctor shop, or who go to multiple physicians for multiple prescriptions are also committing fraud.
Credit Card Fraud
It is illegal to possess or sell a credit card if you know it was altered, stolen, or fraudulently produced, or if you tried to use it knowing that it was cancelled or expired.
There are a variety of internet fraud offenses, or cyber crime, such as phishing, stealing financial information, infecting computers with malicious hardware, perpetrating scams, and stealing or destroying computer data. Common scams are work-at-home ads, lotto winner notices, and financial assistance emails or ads. These generally require that you provide bank account information, social security numbers, birth dates, and other information to be stolen and used or sold to third parties.
One common internet fraud scheme is selling a product on an auction site, like eBay, and then not delivering it. Many computer or internet fraud offenses can be charged as federal offenses since they involve crossing state lines or are involved in interstate commerce.
Auto Insurance Fraud
Any act that misrepresents a material fact to an insurance company and intended to enrich the offender is fraud. Staging accidents to collect personal injury compensation is fraud; claiming property damage that you instigated is another example. It is also a crime to claim you live at a different address than presented to an insurer to pay lower premiums.
This offense requires that the offender be in a position of trust with the victim whose property or money is stolen. The offender has the authority to handle the victim’s funds or property, but he or she misappropriates it or unlawfully converts it to his or her own use. Embezzlement is included as either petty or grand theft depending on the value of the stolen property.
The property embezzled can be real estate, funds, or merchandise. A store employee entrusted with selling clothing or merchandise commits embezzlement if he or she steals the items. A cashier who takes money from the till is committing embezzlement as are bookkeepers who diverts funds from their employer’s accounts to their own.
A parking valet could be charged with embezzlement by taking for a joyride a car that he or she had been entrusted with parking and keeping safe.
Your defenses to a fraud charge depend on the type of offense and the circumstances of your case. Some typical defenses include:
- Lack of fraudulent intent
If you had no intent to defraud the victim out of his or her property or services, you committed no crime. If you merely expressed an opinion that was not meant to be factual or material to the transaction, you could argue that the other person unreasonably or unjustifiably relied on it.
- Mistaken identity
A witness wrongfully identified you as the perpetrator.
If the police lured or coerced you into committing fraud and you would not otherwise have intended to commit the crime, you may have a defense. This is a difficult defense to prove.
Whether the offense is to be charged is a misdemeanor or felony depends on the value of the item illegally obtained, you could argue it had a value of under $950 to escape felony prosecution.
Penalties and Degree of the Offense
Penalties for fraud depend on the particular fraud offense for which you are convicted. In some cases, it depends on the value of the property acquired. Under California law, if the value of the property unlawfully obtained is $950 or less, it is a petty theft and a misdemeanor. Any property over $950 is grand theft and a felony.
Prosecutors have discretion in many cases in deciding whether to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor depending on the facts of your case and if you have prior offenses. Also, if a firearm or auto was unlawfully obtained or a senior citizen defrauded, the charges are considered felonies.
You could also face federal charges if a bank was defrauded or the offense involved interstate commerce or crossed state lines.
Under federal immigration law, if you are an alien or permanent resident and you commit a crime of moral turpitude such as fraud, you may have serious immigration consequences. In some cases, you could face potential deportation and not be eligible
for cancellation of removal relief.
Call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis
Facing a charge of fraud or a related offense can result in serious prison time and have long range or permanent adverse consequences on your life. If you have been charged with fraud, call the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis today for a free, confidential initial consultation at (213) 687-4412.