Fraud in the State of Florida refers to a broad array of crimes that can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. The elements of this crime vary based on the specific kind of fraud being prosecuted, but generally, to be convicted of fraud you must be found to have:
- Made false (fraudulent) representations,
- For personal gain,
- Meeting any other elements of the specific offense.
It may be in your best interest to hire an experienced attorney if you find yourself charged with a fraud offense.
TYPES OF FRAUD
Following is a list of some of the more common fraud offenses:
Credit Card Fraud
Credit card fraud generally involves using a forged or stolen credit card to make purchases. It is considered a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and $1,000 in fines, if:
- The fraud is committed fewer than two times in a 6-month period; AND
- The items obtained by fraud are worth less than $100.
However, the charge becomes a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine, if:
- The fraud is committed more than two times in a 6-month period; OR
- The items received are worth more than $100.
If the fraud involves more than $1,000 in one year and involves crosses state lines (including through the Internet), then you may be subject to federal prosecution, which can result in up to 10 years in prison if you are convicted.
Mail and Wire Fraud
Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud refer to the use of mail (be it the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, Fedex, etc.) or otherwise transmitting information in order to commit fraud. Because this type of fraud often involves interstate commerce, it is usually prosecuted by federal authorities.
Identity Theft/Fraudulent Use of Personal Identification
Identity theft and fraudulent use of personal identification are actually separate criminal offenses. Just stealing someone else’s personal information is illegal in itself, and this is what is referred to as identity theft. Once that information is unlawfully used for gain, the separate offense of fraudulent use of personal identification is committed. As such, you can face harsh penalties if you are charged with these crimes.
Healthcare fraud refers to an array of different kinds of fraudulent conduct committed by healthcare providers. This includes: over-billing patients; illegal solicitation; over-prescribing medication which can then be sold on the street (such places are colloquially known as “pill mills”); and insurance fraud. Healthcare fraud is a felony, and as such can come with severe punishments.
Welfare fraud refers to the act of intentionally taking advantage of welfare programs for the purpose of defrauding them. For example, it is illegal to be receiving benefits from a program in one state, and then apply for benefits in another state without disclosing the benefits from the first state. This kind of fraud can also occur if you make a substantial misrepresentation when applying for welfare (e.g. not listing a major source of income) or fail to disclose a change in circumstances while receiving benefits (e.g. getting a new job) in order to receive more benefits. Welfare fraud can be charged as either:
- A first degree misdemeanor if the amount obtained from fraud is less than $200 in a year, punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a $1,000 fine; or
- A third degree felony if the amount is $200 or more, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Lack of Intent
Intent is a necessary element to sustain a conviction of fraud. For example, in a charge of credit card fraud, it is a valid defense to assert that you had no intent of defrauding the merchant but acted in good faith.
Lack of Materiality
For some fraud offenses, such as welfare fraud, the alleged offense must relate to a material misrepresentation to constitute fraud. As such, if you find yourself accused of not listing a source of income on an application for a welfare program, you may assert in your defense that the income was immaterial (i.e. insignificant) and you would not have been reasonably expected to include that information.