Fraud is a serious offense that involves obtaining property or personal information through acts of deception, theft, or coercion. Criminal fraud is typically a felony-level offense that is punishable by hefty fines and sometimes with lengthy prison sentences.
There are many different types of fraud, and in fact as technology evolves, new types and methods of fraud are cropping up all the time. However, regardless of the type of fraud, the elements of the offense are similar, and therefore the defense is often similar.
Below we cover how North Carolina defines fraud, and outline defense strategies that generally are applicable to most forms of fraud.
How North Carolina Defines Fraud
In North Carolina, fraud can be charged as either a civil or criminal offense that falls under the general umbrella of white collar crimes – nonviolent offenses that involve the loss of property, assets, or personal information.
As mentioned above, fraud is defined as obtaining property or personal information through deception, coercion, or theft. The type of fraud depends on the type of property or information obtained, and sometimes the means used to do so.
Common types of fraud in North Carolina include:
- Scams: Scams occur when an individual or business entity relays false information to gain money, property, or personal information from the victim. A common example of this is phishing emails asking for account or personal information.
- Skimming and ATM fraud: Skimming is the act of obtaining account information through a hidden electronic device installed on an ATM or credit card reader.
- Credit Card Fraud: Generally, a victim’s credit card information is stolen, and then is either sold or used by the thief to make fraudulent purchases. Other forms of credit card fraud include physically stealing credit cards, creating fake credit cards, or applying for a credit card under someone else’s name.
- Insurance and Health Care Fraud: Insurance and health care fraud usually involves lying or staging an accident or injury to receive insurance settlements or healthcare payments. For example, a homeowner could set his or her own home on fire in order to collect insurance money.
North Carolina Fraud Defense Strategies
Regardless of the type of fraud, the common elements consist of misrepresenting facts in order to fraudulently obtain money, property, or personal information. Therefore, there are common defenses that are applicable to most types of fraud.
In all criminal cases, the prosecution has what’s known as the burden of proof – in other words, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offense in question. However, in many fraud cases, this is harder to prove than it seems. Fraud is often an offense that does not involve witnesses or evidence such as fingerprints or DNA.
If the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to link you to the alleged fraud, it may be possible to use an insufficient evidence defense. Your defense attorney will evaluate the evidence against you provided in the discovery, and from this determine if insufficient evidence is a viable strategy.
Absence of Intent to Commit a Crime
In order to commit fraud, you must intend to deceive the alleged victim. Therefore, in order to successfully convict you of fraud, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had the intent to commit a crime by deceiving the victim.
For example, if you accidentally use your friend’s medical insurance card, this is not considered fraud. On the other hand, if you intentionally steal your friend’s insurance card to use it on purpose, this is considered fraud.
Not all false statements are considered fraudulent. For example, if you accidentally enter incorrect information on your income tax return without intending to do so, this false statement is not fraudulent, and you cannot be convicted of tax evasion fraud.
Additionally, expressions of opinion, even if they are not representative of the truth, cannot be considered fraud.
Entrapment occurs when law enforcement compels or convinces an innocent person to commit a crime that they would not otherwise commit. However, simply providing an opportunity to commit a crime, such as in a sting operation, is not entrapment.
If you are accused of committing fraud as a result of a sting operation, a knowledgeable North Carolina criminal attorney will be able to evaluate the circumstances of your case to determine if this was grounds for entrapment.
Good Faith Belief
Fraud consists of knowing, willful conduct committed with the intent to defraud the victim. Therefore, if you were acting under good faith, this is a defense against fraud. For example, if you sell someone a fake baseball card from your collection, you are only committing fraud if you knew at the time of sale that the baseball card was fake.
These are just some of the possible defenses that may apply to your case. There are many others, and the best one for you will need to be determined by the specific circumstances of your situation.