California prosecutors prosecute fraud crimes very aggressively. Even though criminal conduct such as fraud usually doesn't involve severe bodily injury or death, it could result in harsh consequences like hefty fines and lengthy jail/prison time due to the amount of money involved. If you've been accused of fraud, you want to have a knowledgeable and experienced fraud crimes lawyer review the facts surrounding your case and develop a defense strategy that will obtain you the most favorable outcome.
At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we're readily available to help any person facing any form of fraud charges. We boast highly skilled fraud crimes lawyers who also have in-depth knowledge of California fraud laws. We understand that a conviction of any fraud crime could subject you to severe penalties, and we'll help you in the best possible way. Contact us right now for professional and expert services.
Fraud Crimes Overview
Generally, fraud is a false representation of facts—whether by conduct or by words, by misleading or false claims, or by concealing what should've been disclosed—which deceives and intends to realize an undeserved or unfair gain for you and cause loss or harm to someone else.
Generally, you violate California fraud laws when you do any act that leads to an undeserved or fair gain for you and causes loss or harm to someone else.
Most often, people who engage in fraudulent activities have the motive to gain financially and, at the same time, escape criminal liability. That being said, the state penalizes so many fraudulent acts—some of which are evidently based on the mentioned motives while others aren’t.
Considered white-collar offenses, fraud crimes can lead to significant prison/jail sentences and hefty fines. Most fraud offenses carry specific punishments, whereas others are charged under theft, forgery, or perjury laws. Many fraud-related crimes are charged as wobblers, while a few are straight felonies. A wobbler is a crime that could be charged either as a misdemeanor or felony based on the defendant’s criminal history and specific facts surrounding the case. Most California misdemeanors carry up to a year in jail and a maximum of $1,000 in fines. Felonies carry a minimum of three years in state prison.
In addition, most fraud crimes are federal offenses. If you commit a fraudulent act, you can be charged both in state and federal court, resulting in increased penalties. These crimes are also considered moral turpitude offenses under the state’s law, meaning if you are an immigrant, a conviction could subject you to deportation and being labeled inadmissible. Furthermore, fraud crimes may subject you to professional consequences like professional license revocation/suspension.
Lastly, the state or federal government may legitimately seize any property or money linked to the fraud crime via a process approved under fraud laws.
Types of Fraud Crimes In California
California has several different forms of fraud crimes categorized depending on the institution they're committed and the means involved. These categories include:
- Insurance fraud crimes
- Mortgage and real estate fraud crimes
- Generic financial fraud crimes
- Internet fraud
- Fraud crimes that involve elders
- Identity theft and forgery
- miscellaneous fraud crimes
Insurance Fraud Crimes
You commit insurance fraud anytime you try obtaining insurance benefits or payments to which you're not entitled. California insurance fraud offenses include:
Workers' Compensation Fraud
You commit workers' compensation fraud anytime you try making a fraudulent/false claim against the state's workers' compensation insurance program. Instances that qualify as workers' compensation fraud include:
- Failure to disclose a previous injury that'd be relevant to your current
- Claiming a non-work injury is a work-related injury
- Faking an injury or exaggerating its extent
Welfare Fraud is described under WIC 10980. You commit this offense when you attempt to increase welfare benefits or acquire welfare benefits to which you aren't legitimately entitled. We've two forms of welfare fraud—internal and recipient fraud. Recipient fraud involves attempting to obtain fraudulent benefits, while internal fraud is where a government employee who distributes welfare benefits tries to distribute or collect illegal benefits from the agency that employed them.
Unemployment Insurance Fraud
Unemployment insurance fraud crime is described under Penal Code 550 and Unemployment Insurance Code 2101. The crime occurs when unemployment insurance applicants supply incomplete or false info to obtain or seek benefits they're not legitimately entitled to. On the employer’s part, this offense occurs when an employer supplies incorrect info so that former or current employees will be denied benefits they're not entitled to. Examples of unemployment insurance fraud cases include:
- Cashing another person's unemployment check without permission to do so
- Living in one state and acquiring fraudulent unemployment insurance benefits from another state or collecting benefits from two states.
- Intentionally giving false info about why a worker was terminated or about their wages to avoid contributing to the unemployment insurance program.
- Faking work-search efforts (i.e., stating that you are diligently searching for a job when, in the real sense, you aren't)
Health Care Insurance Fraud
Hospital workers, medical equipment suppliers, pharmacists, and doctors, are just a few people who can face healthcare insurance fraud charges. Violating laws governing health care insurance fraud include committing acts such as:
- Over-billing or double-billing for health services rendered
- Engaging in prescription fraud or doctor shopping by securing numerous prescriptions for one drug
- Receiving illegal payment (kickbacks) for having prescribed given medications
- Charging for services that weren't provided
Medi-Cal Insurance Fraud
Medi-Cal Insurance Fraud crime can be prosecuted under Welfare & Institutions Code (WIC) 14014, WIC 14107, WIC 14107.2, and Penal Code (PC) 550. Most acts considered to be a violation of Medi-Cal insurance fraud statutes are, at the same time, violations of healthcare fraud statutes. For instance, a physician billing Medi-Cal for services they didn't perform will be committing Medi-Cal insurance and health care insurance fraud.
Auto Insurance Fraud
You violate auto insurance fraud statutes any time you try obtaining money from a vehicle insurance provider by involving yourself in fraudulent acts such as:
- Staging an auto accident,
- Setting your vehicle on fire and reporting that it's stolen or
- Inflating an insurance claim's price.
Mortgage and Real Estate Fraud Crimes
California mortgage and real estate laws penalize any intentional false representation connected with any percentage of real estate-related transactions. Prevalent mortgage and real estate fraud crimes are:
A foreclosure fraud offense is criminalized under Civil Code 2945.4. It's the most commonly charged type of real estate and mortgage fraud. This crime occurs when an individual, usually a self-appointed foreclosure consultant or agent, represents that they can prevent or postpone a pending home foreclosure. Typically, you commit foreclosure fraud when you participate in any fraudulent activity involving a foreclosed property or property undergoing foreclosure. For instance:
- Charging a homeowner for services before having provided them
- Charging or collecting a higher fee for services
- Taking an interest in the property facing foreclosure
- Taking power of attorney from the homeowner
- Taking money from someone else for their services and fail to inform the homeowner
- Defrauding the homeowner into signing an unlawful contract
Foreclosure fraud is a wobbler, punishable similarly as grand theft. A misdemeanor conviction carries a jail sentence of one year, while a felony carries a prison sentence that does not go beyond three years.
Straw Buyer Schemes
This form of fraud occurs when you request someone else to purchase property for you generally because they have a higher credit rating. The word 'straw' here means the purchaser. For instance, you ask someone else to secure a mortgage for you since they have a higher credit score and yours isn't sufficient. You offer the individual some money in exchange. They sign the loan paperwork, purchase the property, then transfer it to you. However, you don't remit the mortgage payments as you agreed, leaving the buyer responsible for the loan themselves, facing bankruptcy and possible criminal charges. If you are caught doing this, you could also face criminal prosecution.
You commit a rent skimming offense any time you:
- Rent out a property that is not yours or which you don’t have the legal authorization to rent out and use the rent you collect for your needs, or
- Use rent proceeds you collected from your residential rental property in the first year of securing the asset without first using the money to pay your mortgage
Rent skimming is generally a civil violation that subjects you to fines only. But if the crime involves five properties or more within two years, you will face criminal charges as well.
Illegal Property Flipping
Generally, property flipping is legal in California. It involves a purchaser who buys property below its market value, upgrades or refurbishes it, then sells it quickly at a profit. However, this practice becomes illegal when the buyer generates fraudulent loan documents or appraisals to justify an inflated selling price.
Illegal property flipping isn't a crime that's specifically illegalized by any given law. Instead, it's criminalized under several statutes, statutes that the prosecution will review to establish which ones are most applicable to the facts surrounding your case. It could be prosecuted under grand theft, wire fraud, or mail fraud laws.
Predatory Lending Schemes
Predatory lending is an illegal practice by lending institutions like banks that take advantage of unsuspecting borrowers. In other words, you commit a predatory lending offense when you, as the lender, manage a loan transaction to extract the maximum value for yourself with disregard for the borrower's capability to pay back the loan. Actions that can be charged as predatory lending include:
- Taking advantage of borrowers' ignorance of intricate transactions
- Imposing exploitative and unreasonable terms on borrowers, usually by using aggressive sales strategies
The punishment you'll face for committing a predatory lending claim depends on the precise facts surrounding your case. This crime can be charged under federal and state laws. If convicted under federal law, you'll face substantial fines and a federal prison sentence. Under state laws, this offense can be charged under PC 487, grand theft, PC 470, forgery, and Business and Professions Code 17500, false advertising.
Forgery means knowingly creating, altering, or using any written real estate document with the specific intent to commit fraud. Consequently, PC 115 prohibits trying to record, register, or file a forged deed or filing a forged deed. This crime is always considered a felony punishable by three or two years or sixteen months in prison based on the facts of the case. You'll also pay a fine that doesn't exceed $10,000.
Generic Financial Fraud Crimes
There exist several generic fraud crimes in California that involve unfair or undeserved monetary gain. The most common ones include:
Securities fraud is also called investment fraud or stock fraud. This offense involves acts that make investors make decisions depending on false info. This form of fraud may include misstating a business's value, stealing from investors, or even altering or counterfeiting a business's financial statements. Traders, accountants, promoters, and stock traders are some of the people that can be charged with securities fraud.
Credit Card Fraud
You commit credit card fraud when you make or try to make a fraudulent transaction using a debit or credit card or with account details linked to a debit or credit card. General instances of this crime involve:
- Selling fake credit cards.
- Using your debit/credit card knowing it's been revoked or is expired
- Using another person's credit card when they haven't authorized you to do so
Since a credit card crime can be committed in several different ways, the accused will be punished based on the specific act they have done. This crime could even be prosecuted under theft or forgery laws based on the facts surrounding the case.
You commit a check fraud offense by possessing, using, or making- or trying to use/make a check intending to defraud the payee and reveal the intention by passing the check as legitimate. Note that this crime isn't the same as violating bad checks statutes that criminalize passing or trying to pass a check, aware that there are not enough funds to cover the check's total value. Trying to present a check in violation of bad checks statutes is a form of check fraud. Examples of actions that warrant check fraud charges include changing the check's value or forging the name on the check.
Check fraud is prosecuted as a wobbler crime. Misdemeanor punishments are a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, while felony consequences are three or two years, or sixteen months in prison and a maximum of 10,000 in fines.
The state's internet fraud statutes criminalize any fraudulent act achieved through the use of a computer, like in an online or e-mail store or chat room. Examples of internet fraud crimes are forwarding or creating a computer virus, fraudulently buying something online, and cyberstalking.
Fraud Crimes That Involve Elders
We also have several fraud crimes that particularly have to do with the elderly. They include:
Nursing Home Fraud
Nursing home abuse could be financial, emotional, or physical. Financial abuse is considered nursing home fraud. This form of fraud could include acts like:
- Forging an elderly's name on a check
- Over-billing for services
- Being a worker at the facility, you persuade one of the elders to sign over their property to you.
You break elder abuse law when you financially, physically, or emotionally abuse an elderly, i.e., a person sixty-five years and above. When it's financial abuse, it generally qualifies as senior fraud. Schemes that qualify to be financial elder abuse include real estate predatory lending, elder abuse, cemetery and funeral elder fraud, home repair schemes, credit repair schemes, and telemarketing schemes.
Senior fraud is a wobbler punishable by a year in jail for a misdemeanor conviction and five years in prison for a felony. You may also be subjected to fines ranging between $1,000 and $10,000 based on the facts surrounding your case.
Miscellaneous Fraud Crimes
Lastly, we have some other miscellaneous prevalently prosecuted fraud crimes that are worth mentioning. They include:
Business & Professions Code 17511.9 illegalizes engaging in telemarketing fraud, meaning using a fraudulent or deceitful act or business scheme to sell something. This crime is charged as a wobbler. It’s punished by three years in prison for a felony and a year in jail for a misdemeanor.
PC 332 criminalizes fraudulently obtaining another person's property or money through tricks, scams, or card games like fraudulent fortune-telling, cheating at gambling activities like card games, and confidence games like three-card monte. This crime is penalized depending on the total amount of money you're accused of fraudulently obtaining through these kinds of activities. The crime carries misdemeanor consequences for 950 dollars or less and changes to a wobbler if the amount is over $950.
Fraudulent Auto Registration Stickers
If to secure monetary gain or avoid paying Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) fees or taxes, you deliberately interfere with registration stickers, a license plate, or registration card, you're guilty of breaking the statute against fraudulent vehicle registration stickers. Based on how you interfered with the items mentioned, you could be subject to additional penalties for forging or counterfeiting a public seal or fraudulently possessing one.
Handicapped Parking Fraud
You commit this crime when you unlawfully use, lend to someone else, or misuse a handicapped Parking placard. This offense can be committed in several ways, including:
- Displaying an expired, forged, or fake handicapped placard
- A person lending their handicapped placard to an individual who is not entitled to use that type of placard
- Using another person's placard to park when you're not disabled and the real placard owner isn't with you
Mail fraud is a federal crime. The offense involves any fraudulent act committed through the postal system. For example:
- Advertising fraudulent services through mail
- Intentionally failing to deliver products that your customer ordered via mail.
- Sending a counterfeit check via mail
Defending Against Fraud Crimes
For the prosecution to show beyond any reasonable doubt that you're guilty of fraud, they must prove that you had the specific intent to defraud the victim for monetary gain. A skilled lawyer can evaluate your case then build a solid defense strategy that may lead to your charges being dismissed or reduced. Possible legal defenses to fraud crimes include, among others:
- It was a case of mistaken identity—i.e., there wasn't any eyewitness, or the real culprit isn't known since the fraud occurs behind the scenes.
- You did not have any fraudulent intent (i.e., if you did not intend to do a fraudulent act, you aren't guilty of fraud).
- Police entrapment. You can be acquitted if your lawyer shows that you committed fraud only because a police officer forced or lured you into performing the fraudulent act.
- Insufficient Proof, i.e., there's no adequate evidence to find you guilty
- No knowledge- — you didn't know it was a fraudulent scheme
- Illegal search and seizure- the proof against you was obtained without a valid search warrant
- The supposed victim didn't suffer any injury or loss
Find a Knowledgeable Fraud Crimes Lawyer Near Me
California fraud laws are broad, making it easy for anyone to face criminal charges. Also, each violation of fraud laws is prosecuted and punished differently based on the facts of the specific case. That's why if you've been accused of any fraudulent activity, it can be challenging to tackle the case by yourself. What you'll need at that moment is legal advice and representation from someone who understands the state's fraud laws. An attorney is a better-placed person to help you.
At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have a team of qualified lawyers ready to listen to you and offer expert help regardless of what kind of fraud charges you face. Reach out to us at 951-946-6366 without hesitation for a case evaluation. After reviewing your case, we'll do everything legally possible to obtain you the most favorable outcome, including a dismissal or charge reduction.