How Is "Fraud" Defined Under California Law?
While "fraud" is an umbrella term under which many specific offenses are classified in the California Penal Code, nevertheless, it has a generalized legal definition. An act that is done for the purpose of securing undeserved gain and/or of causing undeserved loss to another person, but is carried out by some form of misrepresentation rather than direct taking, is an act of fraud.
Fraud is normally committed either to gain financial benefits or by those operating on a false identity in order to evade the criminal justice system.
Fraud crimes are a specific class of theft crimes, or they can be a species of forgery or perjury crime. They are also considered "white collar crimes," although, many people not remotely "white collar" are charged with fraud in California every year.
Fraud crimes will be punished very differently based on the specific offense involved, the value of the money or goods taken by fraud, any aggravating factors, and the defendant's past criminal record. Fraud crimes can be either misdemeanor or felony level offenses.
A fraud conviction, or even a mere charge, can affect your immigration status and lead to deportation, and can also lead to professional discipline or even the loss of your professional license.
Finally, note that a number of fraud crimes are federal offenses, which means you can be prosecuted in both federal and state court for the same offense. And the penalties for federal crimes tend to be very severe.
We at Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys understand California fraud crime laws down to the "legal minutia" and we also are familiar with how to effectively defend against this class of criminal charges. Often, the defense will be such things as lack of fraudulent intent (its was a mistake or misunderstanding), mistaken identity (someone else committed the fraud), or police entrapment. But the exact defense will vary greatly with the nature of the charge and the details of the case.
Classes of California Fraud Crimes
Here are some of the major kinds of fraud crimes that we at Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys often handle and often win dismissals, acquittals, and reduced charges/sentences for.
- Insurance Fraud
Insurance fraud occurs when someone seeks to obtain an insurance benefit he/she does not deserve by making false or misleading statements, purposeful omissions, by staging an accident, or by some other means. Exaggerating the value of a valid claim can also be fraud.
There are many forms of insurance fraud, including:
- Health insurance fraud: This can involve healthcare workers charging for services never performed, doctors getting "kickbacks" from drug providers for making prescriptions, double or over billing, or patients getting more than one prescription for the same drug from different doctors. Such fraud often takes place in our state's Medi-Cal system, but can occur with any health insurance.
- Unemployment insurance fraud: Unemployment fraud can be done by or against beneficiaries. Internally, it would be a wrongful reduction or denial of a claim or a diverting of funds to friends or relatives "on the outside." Giving false information on why one lost his/her job, lying about required work-search endeavors, not reporting sources of income, working while on unemployment, or collecting unemployment from multiple states simultaneously are all forms of fraud.
- Auto insurance fraud: This is the most common kind of insurance fraud, largely because it involves the most common type of insurance. Often, it occurs when someone sets fire to his/her own car or arranges for a friend to "steal" it, but there are endless similar schemes.
- Workers comp fraud: Examples of workers comp fraud include faking an injury, making a claim on an injury that did not occur at work, or exaggerating the severity or cost of a valid injury.
- Welfare fraud: When recipients use deceit to gain a welfare benefit or when when a welfare agency worker illegally distributes benefits to a friend and then divides the proceeds, it is welfare fraud.
- Real Estate Fraud
Any variety of fraud with a connection to real estate or mortgages is "real estate fraud." There are numerous schemes used to defraud others out of their real property or get them to pay out money without receiving any valuable services, which fall under this category.
Here are a few of the most common real estate fraud schemes:
- Foreclosure fraud: A supposed agent may show up and offer "consulting services" and promise to save a home in danger of foreclosure (for a price), while actually not doing any real work. Or, another form of foreclosure fraud would be to convince a homeowner to make mortgage payments direct to you with the assurance you will somehow be able to "save the house."
- Deed forgery: In many instances of real estate fraud, a fake deed is created to "sell" a property that one does not really own.
- Unlawful property-flipping: While it is fine to buy up property, fix it up, and resell it fast for a profit (or even without renovation), if the real value of the property is misrepresented to gain a higher selling price, it is fraud. Often, a fraud appraisal will be involved.
- Rent Skimming: It is illegal to use the rent money of tenants without first paying the mortgage (during the first year after acquiring new property and with a few exceptions.) Rent skimming can also consist in "renting out" property you don't even own.
- Straw Buyers: This type of scheme involves getting people with good credit to sign to help someone with bad credit get a loan, but then the "agent" runs off with the loan money and leaves the "suckers" responsible for the mortgage.
- General Financial Fraud
"Financial fraud" in the general sense is what many people immediately think of when they hear the word "fraud." Here are some of the most common examples:
- Check Fraud: Anyone who produces, uses, or simply possesses a fraud check, while having an intent to use it to fraudulently take funds from the payee's account AND who represents the fraud check as if it were legitimate, is guilty of committing check fraud. Or, if you try to use a check that is your own but you know you don't have sufficient funds to cover it, that can constitute check fraud as well.
- Credit Card Fraud: Any use of an "access card" (credit or debit card) or the information belonging to an access card account, wherein a fraud transaction is committed or attempted, is "credit card fraud." This might mean manufacturing fraud credit cards, stealing and using another person's card, or using your own card when you know it is expired.
- Investment Fraud: When stock traders or other investment consultants (or those posing as them) try to get others to make an investment decision based on wrong or misleadingly incomplete information, it is "investment fraud."
- Forgery & Identity Theft
Another major class of fraud crimes related to the stealing of information, posing as someone your're not, or in creating counterfeit documents, all done to ultimately secure undeserved financial gain at someone else's expense.
Here are some examples:
- Forging a public seal: It is a specific crime in California to forge a state public seal or even to knowingly possess such a fake public seal. It might be the seal of some particular state agency that would be used to create fake public documents.
- Making a counterfeit driver's license: To forge a California driver's license or state ID is a serious fraud crime. Even to alter a true, state-issued license or ID card qualifies as fraud. This may be done because your license was revoked or to commit identity theft.
- False personation: Posing as someone you're not for the purpose of securing a benefit is the fraud crime called "false personation." It is a form of identity theft. It can be done by presenting a check that you forged the signature on, by using another person's ID to gain approval for welfare benefits, or a hundred other ways. It can also be done via the Internet in a chatroom or in use of a credit card online.
- Internet fraud: While other fraud crimes can be committed online, as mentioned above, Internet fraud is a distinct crime in its own right in California. It involves such things as selling stolen goods online, using someone else's credit card to make fraud purchases online, and stalking people online (called "cyberstalking.")
- Other Forms of Fraud
There are some forms of fraud crimes that simply do not fit "nice and net" into any of the above-listed categories. At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we have deep expertise in defending against any and all forms of fraud, including these "miscellaneous" fraud crimes:
- Senior fraud: Anytime someone manipulates a senior (65 and older) in a way that results in their securing undeserved financial gain, it is senior fraud, which is a form of elder abuse. Real estate schemes, telephone marketers selling fake "funeral insurance," and fake home repair contractors are all common examples of senior fraud.
- Nursing home fraud: In essence, when senior fraud occurs in a nursing home setting and is done by a nursing home employee or the organization itself, it is nursing home fraud. Sometimes, it is a matter of getting a senior living in the home to sign over real estate deeds or of forging a check in the senior's name, but it may also be a matter of double or over billing.
- Handicap parking fraud: When someone forges, counterfeits, illegally borrows/lends, or misuses a handicap parking placard, it is an act of fraud under California law. Given that such practices prevent truly handicapped person from using their reserved spaces, handicap parking fraud can be punished relatively severely unless mitigating circumstances existed.
- Mail fraud: To use the U.S. Postal System to commit any other fraud offense is an additional fraud crime. It is also mail fraud to not deliver ordered products through the mail as promised. A mail fraud is a federal offense, it can carry some stiff penalties.
- Gambling fraud: When fraud is used in card games and other types of gambling to "trick" people out of their money, it is a specific fraud crime under PC 332. Fraud fortune telling is also a crime. These crimes will be punished based on home much money was stolen via fraud in the gambling or fortune-telling incident.
Contact Us Today For Help
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we stand ready to defend you against any and all California fraud crime allegations. We understand the gravity of this class of criminal charge, and we know how to build you a solid defense.
For a free, no-obligation consultation and immediate attention to your case, contact us anytime 24/7/365 by calling (562) 308-7807. Or, you can consult with us in person at our office, located in Long Beach, CA.