Can You Unknowingly Commit Fraud?

Both state and federal laws concern various types of fraudulent acts, such as mail fraud, wire fraud, identity fraud (or identity theft), and credit card fraud, among others. Generally, a person may be accused of fraud when they intentionally engage in a scheme to deprive another person of property or services. Of course, the specific elements of each of the crimes listed earlier (and those not listed) will differ.

Fraud Occurring From an Error

Technically, because the statutes provide that a person must willingly carry out a fraud scheme or must have done so with the intent to defraud, it's unlikely that they could be convicted of fraud if they engaged in the conduct unknowingly. For instance, suppose a person accidentally provided information about their previous employer on an unemployment claim. Relying on the claimant's statement, the unemployment agency issued higher benefits than would have been provided had the error not have occurred.

If the person in the hypothetical situation above is charged with a fraud offense, they may be able to raise as a defense the fact that they neither intended to defraud the agency nor knowingly provided the wrong information.

Fraud Occurring Unknowingly

Some situations might arise when a person carries out what they believe is an insignificant act that wouldn't constitute fraud. In such cases, regardless of how minor the conduct seems, it can still be prosecuted as a state or federal crime.

Let's use credit card fraud to illustrate this point. Suppose a woman's boyfriend tells her she can use his credit card on a specific date to make a utility payment.

Now, if the woman uses the credit card and has consent from the cardholder (her boyfriend), she may not be convicted of fraud.

Under Florida Statute 817.61, credit card fraud occurs when a person:

  • With the intent to defraud,
  • Obtains goods or services,
  • With a credit card they either
    • Know is forged or
    • Used without the consent of the cardholder
  • Misrepresents themselves as the cardholder when in fact they are not

But let's say that on a second occasion, she uses that card. This time, she does not have her boyfriend's explicit consent. However, she believes that it's okay to use the card this time because she was able to use it before.

In this situation, the woman did not know she was committing fraud. Still, because she didn't have consent, she may face criminal penalties.

But remember, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant in a criminal case violated all elements of a law. Florida's credit card fraud law specifically says that the person must have acted "with intent to defraud." Thus, if the woman acted knowingly but without intent to defraud, her attorney may be able to raise that as a defense.

Get Legal Help with Fraud Charges

Both state and federal statutes concerning fraud are complicated. You might find yourself facing charged even if you didn't know your conduct was considered fraud. That is why it's essential to have an attorney assist with your case. They can review the specifics of your circumstances and build a defense to challenge the accusations against you.

At Beckham Solis, Attorneys at Law, we are skilled at handling complex criminal matters and can aggressively fight for you. For legal representation in Miami, call us at (305) 290-1884 or contact us online today.

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