Broadly speaking, fraud is the use of deception, dishonesty, lying, or stating falsehoods in an attempt to gain some sort of benefit. While the exact phrasing can vary depending upon the jurisdiction, there are a few elements of fraud that are broadly true.
Those elements include the following:
- A purposeful misrepresentation of a material (important) fact was made.
- The individual making the misrepresentation was aware of its falsehood.
- The misrepresentation was intended to deceive a victim.
- The victim suffered an actual loss because of the misrepresentation.
While we’ll be focusing on some common types of fraud within a criminal law context, it’s important to note that fraud can also be pursued by plaintiffs in civil actions. This can mean someone who is criminally accused of fraud may also be sued for fraud in a separate civil lawsuit.
That said, if you are criminally accused of fraud, your main concern is probably staying out of prison and avoiding punitive fines. This is important because whether fraud is prosecuted by the state or federal government, it can be punished with a sentence involving many years of incarceration.
What follows are descriptions of some of the most common types of fraud, and a few might surprise you. If you have been arrested or charged for any of the following, immediately contact an attorney for legal assistance.
Identity theft, sometimes referred to as identity fraud, refers to illegal activity involving the use of someone else’s personal information (name, address, Social Security Number, birth date, etc.). Identity theft can occur when an offender takes out loans and lines of credit with someone else’s information, or opens new bank accounts, receives medical care, or applies for government benefits using someone else’s personal identifying information (PII).
This type of fraud occurs when someone attempts to use the United States Postal Service, or another interstate delivery service, to defraud someone else. An example might be a fraudster attempting to trick elderly individuals into sending them money by claiming to be a long-lost grandchild in need of financial assistance. Whether or not the fraudster is successful doesn’t matter – merely attempting to commit fraud through the mail is enough to catch a charge.
When someone engages in fraudulent activity involving a telephone, or the Internet, they may be accused of wire fraud. Similar to mail fraud, common examples of wire fraud might be phone calls or emails to elderly individuals where the sender is pretending to be a family member in need of money.
Credit Card Fraud
Credit card fraud can occur when someone fraudulently obtains another person’s credit card information and uses it to make a purchase. Fraudsters might take the physical card itself or simply copy its information down. Another illegal way of taking someone’s credit card information is to use a skimmer, which may be installed somewhere like a gas station. More sophisticated methods of credit card fraud can involve the fraudster posing as a representative of a credit card company, retailer, or even collections agent in order to obtain the target’s credit card information.
This type of fraud occurs when someone provides false information to the IRS. This can mean reporting a different income on your tax return than one actually earned as well as failing to report income from a certain source altogether. Tax fraud can be charged when someone doesn’t disclose capital gains from an asset sale, overstates their business expenses to take advantage of write-offs, and even when someone fails to report tips they earned at an hourly job.
Second only to lying, counterfeiting may be one of the oldest forms of fraud. Counterfeiting involves the production of an imitation of currency, documents, or goods that are not genuine. Everyone is familiar with the concept of counterfeit money or forgeries of historical items, art, and documents, but these are often outliers. It’s more common for relatively mundane documents like birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and wills to end up at the center of a counterfeit charge.
This fraud involves making a false, material statement to a bank, financial institution, mortgage lender, or even a federal agency to get a loan. This can occur if someone misrepresents their current income, assets, and other liabilities in order to succeed on a loan application. It can also occur when someone uses another person’s identity in order to secure assets from a loan.
Criminal Penalties for Fraud
Fraud is a white-collar crime, but that doesn’t make its penalties any less severe than other types of crime. As previously stated, fraud can mean years of incarceration and thousands in fines. In particularly egregious cases, a fraudster can spend decades in federal prison, tens of thousands in fines, and be ordered to pay restitution to victims in addition to fines.
What to Do If You Are Arrested for Fraud
If you are arrested for fraud, don’t talk to anyone about it and immediately reach out to a criminal defense attorney. Depending upon what authorities believe you have done, you may be risking years of your life behind bars and fines you may never be able to pay.
We at Alband, Lane & Balderama can represent clients who are criminally accused of fraud. We are committed advocates for our clients and skilled litigators who can help them protect their rights.