California fraud crimes take many forms, which makes them more complex to navigate. There are many fraud crimes charges any resident or business may face depending on the actions that took place and what was taken. The person or entity involved in these crimes may face punishments in a lesser or greater extent depending on the details, the damage caused, or the money in question.
Thus, if you are charged with committing fraud, it is possible you may not understand your charges until you talk to a lawyer. Consulting with an attorney will help you understand the seriousness of your charges and the steps you should take. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, apart from providing a free consultation, we will also prove the best possible legal representation in court that your charges may end up being dismissed or reduced. In the following sections, we look at what constitutes fraud crimes and the cases we handle.
Fraud crimes are listed in the broader category of white collar crimes. White collar crimes are crimes that don’t involve violence and are fraudulent. Generally, fraud crimes is an umbrella word that describes various criminal acts that involve the use of false statements, deception, or any other misrepresentation of fact to get an unfair financial gain or advantage, usually causing another person a loss. These criminal acts may include check fraud, credit card fraud, auto insurance fraud, or identity theft. Let us look at these crimes in detail.
Auto insurance fraud (PC 548-551)
The legal meaning of California auto insurance fraud is based on the California PC you are accused of having violated. It is defined as any occurrence of criminal fraud, which involves vehicle insurance. The main forms of automobile insurance fraud include:
Abandoning or damaging a vehicle (PC 548)
According to PC 548, it's a criminal offense to destroy, dispose of, abandon, or hide a vehicle that’s insured against damage or loss with the intention of defrauding or prejudicing the insurance provider. Thus, for you to be convicted of PC 548, the prosecutor must first prove that you hid, destroyed, disposed of, or abandoned an insured vehicle, and you did that deliberately so you could deceive the insurance provider and make them lose money or to damage their financial, property, or legal rights.
Note that it’s not mandatory that the insurance provider loses money, or the vehicle be yours for you to be convicted under PC 548. The prosecutor only needs to show you destroyed or hid a vehicle with intent, even if that intent was not successful.
PC 548 is a felony offense. Its potential penalties include formal probation, up to five years of jail sentence, and a maximum fine of $50,000. Additionally, you will face a sentence enhancement of two years for each previous felony conviction of vehicle insurance fraud under PC 548 or 550.
Making Fraudulent or Multiple Claims & Multiple (PC 550a(4))
PC 550 addresses several forms of vehicle insurance fraud, which include:
- Presenting a fraudulent or false claim for destruction, damage, conversion, or theft of a vehicle.
- Knowingly submitting two or more vehicle insurance claims for one loss with the intent to defraud.
For you to be convicted, the prosecutor has to show that:
- You fraudulently or falsely filed a claim for the loss of a vehicle, contents of a vehicle, or a vehicle part for you to receive payment for it.
- You were aware that the claim you made was fraudulent or false.
- You filed the claim with the intent to defraud.
Just like in PC 548, it’s not a requirement that anyone loses money due to your actions for you to be convicted.
Making fraudulent and multiple claims are felonies. Their possible penalties include jail time of up to five years, formal probation, and a maximum fine of $50,000 or twice the fraud amount, whichever is more. Also, you will face a sentence enhancement of two years for every previous felony sentence for vehicle insurance fraud under PC 548 or 550.
Note that in case you have previously been convicted of a felony automobile insurance fraud, the chances of receiving a suspended sentence or probation are slim.
Causing a Vehicle Accident (PC 550)
Under PC 550a(3), it’s an offense to cause or take part in a motor vehicle accident with the intention of presenting a fraudulent or false insurance claim so that you can defraud the insurance company. Car insurance fraud by participating or causing a crash happens if the crash was natural, direct, and a possible outcome of your actions and the crash wouldn’t have occurred without your actions.
This is also a felony offense punishable by up to five years of jail time, formal probation, up to 50,000 in fines, or twice the fraud amount, whichever is more. Additionally, the following sentence enhancements would apply:
- An additional two years of jail time for each previous felony sentence for car insurance fraud as per PC 548 or 550.
- An additional five years of jail time for two or more previous felony sentences for auto insurance fraud under Penal Code 550a(3) causing an auto accident.
- An additional two years of jail time for every person (except an accomplice) that suffers a severe bodily injury due to your actions.
- A possible three or more years additional jail time in case you inflicted great bodily injury on another person in the commission of your actions.
False Statement (PC 550b(1-4)
As per PC 550b(1-4), it’s an offense to:
- Make, prepare, present, or intend to present an oral or written statement to oppose or support an auto insurance benefits claim when you know the statement has misleading or false details about material facts.
- Make or prepare written or oral statement that you or someone else intends to present to a car insurer to obtain auto insurance, that you live in California when in reality you live somewhere else.
Making, preparing, or presenting false statements is a California wobbler. The prosecutor will charge you with a felony or misdemeanor depending on your criminal history and the facts of the alleged offense. Felony punishments for this offense are similar to the punishments for filing a false or multiple claims. However, if it is a misdemeanor, the penalties include summary probation, a maximum of one year in jail, and a maximum fine of $10,000.
If charged with auto insurance fraud, you can still fight the case to get a dismissal or reduction of the charges, or you can win the case and be declared innocent. Your attorney can use defenses like a lack of intent to defraud and insufficient evidence to beat these charges.
Check Fraud (PC 476)
Under PC 476, it is a criminal offense to make or try to make, write or try to write, pass or try to pass, or possess an altered, forged, or fake check with the intention of fraudulently obtaining property, cash, or services. Check fraud examples include forging the payer’s name, generating a fake check, or changing the amount of the dollar on a check.
For you to be convicted of PC 476, the prosecutor has to prove that you passed, possessed, made, or tried to pass, possess, or make, an altered or fake check, knowing it was altered or fake, with the intention of defrauding an entity or person, by presenting the check as genuine.
Check fraud is punished as a crime of forgery. It is a wobbler offense that can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor considers your criminal record or the details of your case, which determine a felony or misdemeanor charge. You will be charged with a misdemeanor only if the fake check is worth $950 or less, and you have not been convicted of identity theft under PC 530.5.
For a misdemeanor conviction, you will face a maximum of one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Moreover, if it is a felony conviction, you will be subjected to a maximum of one year in jail with probation or up to three years of a county jail sentence, and up to $10,000 in fines.
Several defenses apply to PC 476. The most common your attorney can present in court on your behalf include mistaken identity, consent, and you had no intention of defrauding.
Credit/Debit Card Fraud (PC 484 e-j)
Credit/debit card fraud refers to the use or attempted use of credit/debit card or their account numbers in an illegal manner. Like other fraud crimes, you will only be convicted of credit card fraud in case you used the credit/debit card with the intent to defraud. This means that if you had no intention of using the credit/debit card fraudulently, you shouldn’t be convicted.
Using a debit/credit card fraudulently means the use was intended to cause a loss to someone else or entity and undeserved benefits for you.
PC 484 subsections e-j are laws addressing various fraudulent practices that involve debit and credit card fraud. Each subsection prohibits a specific act, but in general, they all forbid altering, forging, counterfeiting, publishing information, or stealing a credit or debit card or their account details. Also, note that the precise nature of your crime dictates the punishments you face. For instance, your credit card offense can be punished as grand theft, petty theft, or forgery.
The subsections address credit/debit card fraud as follows:
Stolen credit cards (PC 484e)
Violating PC 484e involves transferring, selling, or acquiring a credit/debit card or their account details without the consent of the true cardholder with the intent to defraud. Simply put, PC 484e prohibits fraudulently possessing a credit/debit card.
Note that it doesn’t matter whether you succeed in committing the fraud or not. What counts is you had the intention of doing so.
PC 484e is punished as grand theft, and it’s a wobbler offense. Whether you will be charged with a felony or misdemeanor depends on your criminal record and the facts present in your case. The punishment of a felony conviction includes a maximum of one year in jail with probation, or up to three years of a county jail sentence, and a maximum of $10,000 in fines. A misdemeanor conviction has a maximum of a one-year jail sentence and up to 1,000 in fines as punishments.
However, if you acquired a credit/debit card or retained their possession with the intention of selling, using, or transferring it but didn’t do so, your offense will be punished as petty theft. The punishments include a maximum of six months of a county jail sentence and up to $1,000 in fines.
Forging credit card information (PC 484f)
PC 484f prohibits forging credit/debit cards. Forgery in this context means illegally and knowingly creating, altering, or using a credit/debit card for your benefit. This is a wobbler offense punished under the forgery laws of California. Its punishments are similar to those of PC 484e stolen credit cards.
Fraudulent use of a credit card or its account details (PC 484g)
PC 484g is violated when a person knowingly uses an altered, stolen, forged, counterfeit, revoked, or expired credit/debit card to obtain goods, money, or services. The offense is punished depending on the worth of the goods, services, or money you receive. In case the value is more than $950 in a consecutive six months period, the crime is grand theft. Moreover, if the worth is $950, the offense is petty theft.
Retailer credit card fraud (PC 484h)
Retailers commit credit/debit card fraud when they accept payment through a credit card they know is stolen, fake, revoked or expired, and therefore not valid. It is also an offense for a retailer to present false proof of a credit/debit card transaction to get paid for goods or services when he/she knows there was no such transaction.
PC 484h is punished similarly to PC 484g. That is, if the value of the goods, services, or money you received in a consecutive six months period is greater than $950, it is grand theft. Also, if the value is $950 or less, it is petty theft.
Counterfeiting credit/debit cards (PC 484i)
PC 484i prohibits:
- The possession of an incomplete credit/debit card with the intention of completing it without the issuer’s consent.
- The changing, alteration or modification of any section of the debit/credit card, be it the face or the details contained in it with the intention of defrauding.
- Allowing someone else to modify or alter a credit card or the account information
- Possess, make or sell equipment used to make credit cards or unfinished credit/debit cards knowing the recipient will generate counterfeit cards
The penalties for this offense vary. For instance, in case you possess an unfinished debit/credit card with the intention of completing it, you will be subjected to a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum of six months of a jail sentence and up to $1,000 in fines.
Additionally, if you alter the information in the card or the card itself, the offense becomes a wobbler, punishable under PC 470 forgery. A felony conviction carries probation with a maximum of one year in jail, up to three years of a jail sentence, and a maximum fine of $10,000. A misdemeanor carries a maximum of one year of a jail sentence and up to $1,000 in fines.
Selling, possessing, or making equipment used to make equipment, is a wobbler. The penalties for a felony conviction include up to $10,000 in fines and up to three years in jail while a misdemeanor conviction carries up to $1,000 in fines and maximum jail time of six months.
Publishing credit/debit card information (PC 484j)
According to PC 484j, it is an offense to publish any details of a credit/debit card, computer passwords, personal ID number, bank account details, with the intention of defrauding someone else or an entity. Publishing information means communicating it orally, in writing, or on a computer. This is charged as a misdemeanor offense whose penalties include a maximum jail sentence of six months and up to $1,000 in fines.
Fortunately, if you are charged with any of credit card fraud offenses, there are several defenses your attorney can present, which may enable you to beat the charges against you. He or she can present mistaken identity, lack of fraudulent intent, or insufficient evidence as valid defenses.
Identity Theft (PC 530.5)
PC 530.5 defines identity theft as taking someone else’s identification details for an illegal purpose. To be more specific, identity theft laws under this Penal Code address and prohibit four forms of identity theft. They prohibit:
- Deliberately acquiring someone else’s identifying details and using them for an unlawful motive without the consent of that person. Examples of illegal motives include obtaining credit, goods, money, services, medical information, or property.
- Retaining possession or acquiring someone else’s identifying details without the consent of that person, with the intention of committing fraud.
- Transferring, providing, or selling identifying details of someone else without consent from that person, and with the intention of committing fraud
- Transferring, providing, or selling identifying details of someone else knowing the details will be used in committing fraud.
Identity theft is charged as a wobbler offense. A misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine of up to $1,000. A felony conviction, on the other hand, carries up to three years of county jail time and up to $10,000 in fines.
It’s important to note that in case you use someone else’s identifying details more than once, every time you use the details constitutes a distinct violation of identity theft law. Therefore, the punishments apply to every identity theft act, even if the crimes are committed against one victim. Also, based on the facts of the case, you may be subjected to different other penalties in case you are sentenced for additional offenses.
Identity theft charges can be fought and won if your attorney presents strong, valid defense. Among the defenses he or she can present include:
- You did not have the intent to defraud
- You did not have an unlawful purpose
- It was a case of mistaken identity
- False accusations
- You’re an interactive software or computer service provider
healthcare Fraud (PC 550)
healthcare fraud is categorized in the insurance fraud laws of California. Generally, this offense involves the benefit claims that healthcare providers, e.g., therapists and doctors submit to health insurance providers or the health insurance programs run by the government. There are several forms of health insurance fraud with which a person can be charged. They include:
- Filing benefits claims for services that weren’t delivered
- Filing fraudulent or false claims
- Filing multiple claims
- Submitting undercharges without overcharges
- Preparing any document to support a fraudulent claim
The potential penalties for healthcare fraud are based on the value of the fraudulent claim ($950 or less). In case the claim is worth $950 or less, the offense will be charged as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor penalties include a maximum fine of $1,000 and a maximum jail sentence of six years.
Moreover, in case the claim is worth greater than $950, the offense is a wobbler. If it’s charged as a misdemeanor, its penalties include a maximum jail sentence of one year and a maximum fine of $10,000. However, if it’s a felony offense, the penalties include probation with a maximum jail sentence of one year, up to five years in jail, a maximum fine of $50,000 or twice the fraud amount, whichever is greater, and loss of a professional license.
You can still fight and win healthcare fraud charges against you if your attorney presents solid defenses in court. Among the defenses, your attorney can use include mistake of fact, lack of knowledge, and lack of fraudulent intent.
Get a Fraud Crimes Attorney Near Me
If you are facing any type of fraud charges, your freedom may be at stake. That being said, it is critical that you have an attorney by your side who understands California fraud crime laws. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we have lengthy experience defending the rights and freedom of the accused. Therefore, we can provide the support you need to reduce your chances of being convicted. Contact us at 724-262-4833 to share the details of your case.