When we think of “white collar crimes” like fraud, we think of business executives defrauding shareholders for millions of dollars while escaping with a slap on the wrist.
For everyday people, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
State and federal authorities treat fraud very seriously, and if you or someone you love is convicted of fraud, you could face significant penalties. Generally speaking, you could be in violation of California’s criminal fraud laws anytime you:
- Commit an act that results in an unfair or undeserved benefit to you, and/or
- Cause harm or loss to another person.
This can be anything from putting a fake registration sticker on your car to passing fake checks, skimming credit cards or running a telemarketing scheme. To make matters worse, the federal government also has the authority to prosecute a number of different fraud crimes, so you could find yourself facing not only state level charges but federal charges as well.
Understanding fraud in California
While fraud is similar to theft, it also involves the pretense of inducing a victim to entrust you with their property or financial wealth. Because fraud involves more planning, it is typically punished more severely.
In order to establish fraudulent behavior, it must be proven that:
- The defendant made a false statement;
- The defendant knew the statement was false;
- The defendant intended to deceive the victim;
- The victim relied on the statement;
- Injury to the victim occurred.
If any of the statements above aren’t true in a case, the defendant cannot be convicted of fraud. This means that if you were an unwitting participant in a fraud — that someone else had duped you into participating in their scheme — then you are not guilty of fraud.
The federal government can get involved in cases where the fraud crosses state lines, if it involves a federal agency (such as mail fraud) or if it involves electronic communication (wire fraud).
Penalties for fraud in California
The penalties for fraud in California vary depending on the severity of the crime, the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.
Generally speaking, if you are convicted of taking less than $200 and have no previous convictions, this will classify as a misdemeanor. A prosecutor ultimately decides whether your charge should be considered a misdemeanor or a felony.
If you are a previous offender, you could face harsher consequences. California law imposes a white collar embellishment, which enhances penalties for a track record of felonies. If you are convicted of at least two counts or if you have two previous convictions, you could have two to five years added to your sentence.
Federal penalties for fraud convictions are very severe, and they can range as high as 30 years in federal prison and up to $1 million in fines.
Legal defenses against fraud charges
“Mr. Helfend absolutely saved my bacon. After finding myself charged with fraud, I was terrified. I have never been introduced to the legal system from this side before, and it was unsettling. However, Robert was able to calm me down and help me figure out my situation. He even got the case dropped before trial! I don’t want to be in another situation where I need a criminal defense lawyer, but if I ever am, I know who I will call!”Pete, CA
No matter what kind of fraud you’ve been accused of, these are the most common defense against your charges:
- You didn’t have fraudulent intent;
- You were a victim of mistaken identity;
- Authorities violated your right to protection from illegal search and seizure.
If you’ve been accused of fraud, it’s important to speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can carefully review the facts of your case and work with you to build your defense.
Robert M. Helfend has been defending white collar crimes such as fraud since 1984, securing successful judgments for thousands of clients in that time. He is rated by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 and Lead Counsel. Call today for your free case evaluation — 800-834-6434.