Simply put, theft refers to taking someone else’s property with the intent to permanently deprive them of that property. However, under the law there are many different levels of theft, as well as distinct crimes that carry a wide range of penalties. Theft may also be classified as either a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of each situation.

Some examples of minor theft include stealing items such as lower value jewelry, or clothes. Such theft would often be classified as petty theft or misdemeanor theft. States vary in terms of what the threshold for this is; however, it is uncommon to see the value being higher than $1,000.

Alternatively, some examples of more serious theft include stealing items such as a vehicle, high value jewelry, or a large sum of cash. State laws will classify each offense based on the type of theft involved, the value of the property that was stolen, and whether any aggravating factors were present. Stealing more valuable property such as this is often referred to as grand theft or grand larceny.

A theft by deception definition would be common to that of conning. A person intentionally and purposely obtains property that belongs to someone else through deceptive tactics. Theft by deception is very similar to the general criminal act of theft in that it entails taking someone else’s property or services on purpose. However, this particular theft crime has the added notion of deception or trickery involved. Generally speaking, in such cases, the victim of the crime relies upon the deceit, or lies, that are claimed as truths by the thief.

What Are Some Examples of Theft by Deception?

In terms of categorizing crimes, cases involving theft by deception can be categorized as false impression matters and/or intentional misrepresentations. Although the exact legal definitions of the two thefts vary by state generally they are defined as follows: 

  • False Impressions: This refers to when a person creates a misconception that a victim ultimately relies upon as true. The most common example of false impressions is a restaurant “dine and dash,” in which someone eats at a restaurant and gives the impression that they intend to pay for their meal. Instead, however, the person eats the meal and sneaks out without making payment to the restaurant; and
  • Intentional Misrepresentations: Intentional misrepresentations occur when someone knowingly lies or omits information that a victim relies upon. A hypothetical example of this would be if a person steals car stereo systems from vehicles, and then turns around to sell the stereos to a used retail shop, such as a pawn store. They do this as if the stereos belonged to them. The store owner purchases the stereos because they rely on the intentional misrepresentation of the stereo thief. 
    • Phishing would be another common example of theft by deception. Phishing is the practice in which potential criminals send out messages via email, text, or phone. Their goal is to give the unsuspecting recipients of the messages the impression that they are with a legitimate company or organization, such as one that the victim is actually involved with. Ultimately, the phishing victims may give out their confidential information, such as their Social Security number, bank account information, or credit card access because of the phishing scam. Phishing scams often lead to identity theft cases.

Another common example of theft by deception that can fall under either or both of the above categories would be the use of a stolen credit card. The thief using the stolen card may give a store owner the false impression that the card belongs to them. Alternatively, the thief may intentionally misrepresent that they have permission to use the card. In either situation, using someone else’s credit card without their permission is a criminal, punishable act and is one of many theft by deception examples.

What Are the Possible Penalties You Can Face for Theft by Deception? What Defenses Are Available for Theft by Deception?

Theft by deception punishments will vary by state. Depending on the particulars of the crime and the state involved, the crime may be considered a misdemeanor in some places, whereas it would be considered a felony in others. Penalties can range from monetary fines to jail time.

Phishing scams and identity theft cases often involve the use of the internet. In turn, this could trigger the federal authorities’ involvement in the prosecution of the crime. Generally speaking, internet crimes are handled by the federal government. Penalties handed out by the federal government can often be more rigorously enforced; and, sometimes both state and federal penalties are imposed.

As with any criminal matter, a court considers many factors when determining the penalty for theft by deception. Such penalties could include, but may not be limited to:

  • The severity of the crime, as well as any mitigating factors involved;
  • Whether the crime is a state or federal act, or both state and federal;
  • The dollar amount that was stolen;
  • The thief’s criminal background, such as if they have committed the same or similar crime before;
  • Whether or not the individual is a minor;
  • The length of time involved in the crime; and/or
  • Whether any valid defenses exist.

It is important to note that often, when addressing theft by deception crimes, prosecutors may consider offering plea deals to the defendant. This is because it may be difficult to prove the actual intention of deceiving the victim. This is often due to an ambiguity in conversation, or terms between the defendant and victim.

If you have been accused of theft by deception, there are some potential defenses that may be available to you based on the specifics of your circumstances. Generally speaking, there are four types of criminal defenses. These include: alibi, excuse, justification, and procedure. Some examples of defenses that are commonly applied to theft by deception charges include:

  • Defendant’s Lack of Intent to Deceive: The prosecution must prove that the defendant wanted to deceive the victim in the first place. If it can be shown to the court that the defendant honestly believed the lie to be a truth, then there could be a valid defense. If so, the matter may likely be dismissed; and
  • Victim’s Willing Participation: A valid defense may be presented if it can be proven that the victim actually gave the defendant the property in question. The case will most likely be dropped if so.

What if I Am the Victim of a Theft by Deception?

Once again, available remedies to victims of theft by deception will vary from state to state, as they are often determined in proportion to the crime committed. In general, some legal remedies for theft by deception include:

  • Compensatory damages which would likely include the value of the stolen property, as well as any losses sustained as a result of the theft;
  • Liquidated damages that amount to either $150, or twice the value of the loss so long as the total amount equals less than $5,000;
  • Legal fees associated with your case; and/or
  • Restitution damages for any harm to the victims because of the actions of the thief.

I Have Been Charged With Theft by Deception, Can a Lawyer Help Me?

Consulting with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal law attorney in your area will be imperative if you have been charged with theft by deception. An experienced and local criminal law attorney can ensure you understand your state’s specific laws regarding the crime, as well as what penalties you may be facing. 

An attorney can also determine if there are any legal defenses available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, a criminal defense attorney will be able to represent you in court as needed.