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. Typically, in these cases, the victim of the crime relies upon the deceit, or lies, that are claimed as truths by the thief.
Theft by deception cases can be categorized as false impression matters and/or intentional misrepresentations. These are as follows:
- False Impressions: This is when someone creates a misconception that a victim ultimately relies upon as true.
- A classic example is a restaurant “dine and dash” situation where someone eats at a restaurant and gives the impression that they intend to pay for their meal. Instead, the restaurant freeloader eats the meal and sneaks out without making payment to the restaurant.
- Intentional Misrepresentations: These occur when someone knowingly lies or omits information that a victim relies upon.
- A hypothetical example is if a person steals car stereo systems from vehicles and then turns around to sell the stereos to a used retail shop, like a pawn store, as if the stereos belonged to that person. The store owner purchases the stereos because they rely on the intentional misrepresentation of the stereo thief.
- Phishing is another example of theft by deception. Phishing is the practice where potential criminals send out messages via email, text or phone. Their aim is to give the unsuspecting recipients of the messages the impression that they are with a legitimate company or organization that the victims actually deals with.
- Ultimately, the 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 (false impressions and intentional misrepresentations) is the use of a stolen credit card.
The thief using the card may give a store owner the false impression that the card belongs to them; or, 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.
The penalties for theft by deception vary from state-to-state. Depending on the particulars of the crime and the state involved, the crime can be considered a misdemeanor in some places and a felony in others. Penalties can range from monetary fines to jail time.
Phishing scams and identity theft cases often involve the internet. This may in turn trigger the federal authorities’ involvement in the prosecution of the crime. Internet crimes are typically 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 takes many factors into consideration in determining the penalty for theft by deception, including, but not limited to:
- The severity of the crime and any mitigating factors involved;
- Whether the crime is a state or federal act, or both state and federal;
- The dollar amount involved;
- The thief’s criminal background;
- 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 dealing with theft by deception crimes, prosecutors may consider offering plea deals to the defendant because it may be difficult to prove the actual intention of deceipting the victim. This can be due to an ambiguity in conversation or terms between the defendant and victim.
Defenses may be raised in criminal law cases, such as theft by deception matters. If the defenses are found valid, the court may acquit — in other words, drop and clear — the charges against the defendant.
In general, there are four types of criminal defenses. These include: alibi, excuse, justification and procedure. While defenses will obviously vary depending on the circumstances of the case, there are defenses that may be applied to theft by deception charges. Some examples include:
- Defendant’s lack of intent to deceive: In order to prosecute the defendant, it must be proven that they wanted to deceive the victim in the first place. Instead, if it can be shown to the court that the defendant honestly believed the lie to be a truth, then there is a valid excuse — or defense — and the matter may likely be dismissed.
- Victim’s willing participation: If it can be proven that the victim actually gave the defendant the property in question, then the defendant has valid justification —or a valid defense — and the case will most likely be dropped.
Every legal matter is different and should be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Yes, an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in navigating the best course to take. An attorney will have knowledge and background in your state’s theft by deception laws as well as any applicable federal statutes
The criminal legal system is complex. The charge of theft by deception should not be taken lightly. Contact an experienced lawyer immediately so that you are able to protect and know your rights, explore any possible defenses, and put your life back on track.