You’re probably already familiar with the concept of fraud, even if you haven’t heard it called that. Criminal fraud is a white collar crime that, in a very broad sense, involves a scheme to cheat or deceive others in order to get some kind of financial or similar gain. Any act intended to deceive through a false representation of some fact, that results in the legal detriment of the person who relies on the false information, can be an act of criminal fraud.
Fraud generally has several legal elements that must be proven in court in order to support a criminal conviction, including:
- Misrepresentation of a material fact;
- By someone who knows that the material fact is false;
- With intent to defraud;
- To a person or entity who justifiably relies on the misrepresentation; and
- Actual injury or damages result from that reliance on the false representation
Essentially, if someone knowingly lies about an important or key fact in a transaction or relationship, and the other party relies on that false information and then suffers some kind of harm, you have a case of fraud.
Unfortunately, fraud can take many different forms and occur in many different contexts. However, the basic underlying elements remain the same. Some examples of criminal fraud include:
- Identity theft;
- Mail fraud;
- Gambling fraud;
- Romance scams;
- Bankruptcy fraud;
- Check fraud;
- Wire fraud;
- Pharmacy fraud;
- Securities fraud;
- Charity fraud;
- Insurance fraud;
- Welfare Fraud;
- Credit/debit fraud;
- Perjury; and
- Pigeon drop scams
This list is not comprehensive. The basic theme that ties all of these examples together is that criminal fraud exists when someone lies or conceals the truth from you, and you justifiably rely on or are hurt by the lie or concealment.
In both criminal and civil fraud cases, the basic elements of the case are the same. However, criminal fraud charges (which can result in fines or jail time) are held to a higher standard of proof. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant intended to commit the misrepresentation and to gain from it.
In these cases, it does not matter if the fraud was unsuccessful and nobody was actually harmed. However, it is important that the defendant intended to commit fraud and made the attempt. Depending on the laws of the state you’re in, as well as the specific circumstances of the case, criminal fraud may be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor crime or as a felony.
In civil fraud cases, the plaintiff (or person who was defrauded) must prove all of the elements of fraud listed above, and show that they suffered some kind of damage as a result of the fraud. The biggest difference between a criminal fraud case and a civil fraud case, besides the person pursuing the case and the potential punishments, is that actual damage needs to have occurred in a civil fraud case.
Potential consequences of being convicted of criminal fraud include prison time, probation or parole, substantial fines, and restitution (paying victims back for their losses). The penalties for criminal fraud depend greatly on the severity of the fraudulent act, the person or entity that was defrauded, and the amount of money or property that was taken by the defendant.
The court will take several factors into account when determining consequences for a conviction, including the following:
- The severity of the criminal fraud;
- Prior convictions;
- Whether the defendant is currently on probation or parole;
- The amount of money or property that was stolen as a result of the fraud; and
- The person, business, or entity that was the targeted victim.
The attitude of the community or the court towards this type of crime may also factor into the final determination of consequences. If the defrauded entity is the federal government, this can result in heavier penalties, and federal charges rather than state charges.
If you have been accused of criminal fraud, it is in your best interests to talk to a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and possible defenses.
If you believe you are a victim of criminal fraud, you should call law enforcement and report the fraud to authorities. If there is sufficient evidence, the case will be forwarded to your local prosecutor or District Attorney’s office to prosecute the person who committed the fraud against you.
Make sure to keep clear records of your losses, especially if you believe you are entitled to restitution. You may also want to speak to a personal injury attorney if you are considering filing a claim in civil court.
Whether you are accused of criminal fraud, or if you are a victim of criminal fraud, it is in your best interests to seek the advice of an experienced local lawyer who can help you protect your rights, navigate the legal system, and provide advice on the best way to proceed. If you have been accused of fraud, you will want to seek out a qualified criminal defense attorney to help you present your best defense in court.