Committing fraud in California could see you severely punished through harsh penalties if you are convicted. Fraud occurs through tricks or deceit, and possible sentences are lengthy even though victims sustain no serious bodily harm. The lengthy jail terms and hefty fines upon conviction are determined by the amount of money the accused has gained wrongly.

If you or a relative has been accused of fraud in California, you will want to consult an experienced criminal attorney. An attorney could help review your case and build robust defense strategies to reduce or dismiss your charges.

At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have attorneys who have spent years representing people accused of fraud in court. We know the repercussions these penalties could have on your life. Our highly skilled lawyers aim to help you have the best outcome possible in your fraud case. Contact us today to begin working on your case.

Fraud in California Overview

Fraud happens when you engage in acts that give you an unfair advantage or an illegal profit or gain while also hurting someone else or making them incur losses. You commit fraud in California by convincing individuals to voluntarily give you their possessions or money by using false pretenses and telling them things that are false or concealing important information.

This kind of theft does not necessarily involve bodily harm, and the individual is convinced enough to give up their property. People engaged in fraud often have two objectives:

  1. To gain finance illegally

  2. Escape criminal charges or liability.

Fraud crimes are white-collar offenses and could be charged as wobblers in that the prosecutor has the jurisdiction to prosecute them as misdemeanors or felonies based on the defendant's criminal history. There are specific penalties for different fraud crime types. Fraud crimes could be charged under theft, perjury, or forgery laws.

When sentencing you, the court considers the amount of fraud, your criminal history, and the type of fraud you committed. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you could serve a one-year jail term or a fine of $1000, while a felony attracts three years of prison time.

If you commit fraud in California, you could be charged in either a state or federal court depending on the nature of the crime. Fraud is classified under crimes of moral turpitude, which could result in the withdrawal of your immigration rights, deportation, and being considered inadmissible. The court could also revoke or suspend your professional license if you are convicted of fraud.

Types of Fraud in California

There are different types of California fraud crimes that you could be charged with, whether misdemeanors or felonies. The section below helps you understand the penalties you could face and how to build a strong defense based on the nature of the crime with which you are charged. These fraud crimes include:

  1. Insurance fraud offenses

  2. Real estate and mortgage fraud offenses

  3. Financial fraud offenses

  4. Forgery and identity theft

  5. Fraud involving elders

  6. Miscellaneous fraud offenses

Insurance Fraud Offenses

You commit insurance fraud when you seek to gain insurance benefits that you are not legally entitled to from an insurance company. Insurance fraud crimes include the following:

Insurance Fraud on Automobiles

You commit the crime of fraud when you stage an accident, inflate the actual price of a claim, or destroy a car by lighting it and reporting it as a stolen commodity to an auto insurer in an attempt to gain financial benefits from your claims.

Most auto insurance frauds are charged as felonies, while a few are treated as wobblers, depending on the nature of the offense. If convicted, you could face a sentence of 16 months to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $50000, or twice the amount involved in the fraud (or the greater amount). In the few instances that the crime is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, you could face a sentence of less than a year in county jail or a fine of $1000.

Healthcare Insurance Fraud

Most healthcare insurance fraud crimes involve medical personnel, including doctors, insurance companies, and pharmacists, who falsify claims of services provided. Healthcare insurance fraud acts include the following:

  • Billing services or medication to an insurer that were not provided to the patient in the first place.

  • Hospitals engaging in double billing of services provided to the patient when making claims to the healthcare insurer or increasing the price of services provided to the patient.

  • Doctor shopping or securing an increased amount of prescriptions for an individual drug.

The penalty you receive for being convicted of healthcare insurance fraud is determined by the amount of money involved in the crime. If the amount involved is less than $950, the crime is charged as a misdemeanor, and you are convicted of a jail term of 6 months or a maximum of $1000 in fines.

If the amount involved exceeds $950, the charge becomes a wobbler. You could be charged with a felony and face a sentence of two, three, or five years of prison time and a $5000 fine or double the amount involved (whichever is greater).

Medi-Cal Insurance Fraud

Most cases of Medi-Cal fraud are the same as healthcare insurance fraud as they involve acts of double billing or making claims for services not provided to the patients under this program.

Under California laws, Medi-Cal insurance fraud crime prosecutions are guided by Welfare and Institution Codes (WIC) 14014, 14107, 14107.2, and Penal Code 550. Possible penalties include serving one year in jail and a $10000 fine if charged as a misdemeanor. You could serve two, three, or five years in prison if charged as a felony and a fine of up to $50000 or double the amount involved, whichever is greater.

Welfare Insurance Fraud

Welfare and Institution Code 10980 describes the act of welfare insurance fraud as when you seek to gain social security or more benefits than you are legally entitled to. There are two types of welfare insurance fraud:

  1. Scam by the recipient. This involves attempts to obtain fraudulent benefits by the claimant.

  2. Internal fraud. This is whereby an individual who works to distribute welfare benefits in a government insurance agency attempts to gain benefits illegally or distributes them to individuals not entitled to benefit from that insurance agency.

Unemployment Insurance Fraud

You commit unemployment insurance fraud under Penal Code 550 when you deliberately attempt to increase, deny or reduce an unemployment insurance benefit. Some of the acts involved in this kind of offense are:

  • You provide false information about the extent of your job search or apply for the same insurance in two states to increase your benefits.

  • An employer gives false information to an unemployment insurance agency about their former or current employees for them to be denied the benefits or have them ultimately reduced. This is mostly because the employer wants to reduce the amount they contribute towards the unemployment insurance program.

The Worker’s Compensation Fraud

You violate worker’s compensation laws when you attempt to gain benefits you are not legally entitled to. Some of the acts considered worker’s compensation fraud are:

  • You failed to inform the insurer of an injury sustained earlier that could be relevant to your current claim.

  • You amplified the extent or degree of an injury.

  • You claimed that an injury sustained out of the workplace is work-related.

Real Estate and Mortgage Fraud Offenses

You commit fraud under the real estate and mortgage fraud laws when you attempt to gain benefits from an insurance agency by falsifying any information that involves any part of transacting in real estate. There are many offenses categorized under real estate and mortgage fraud. The most common ones are :

Foreclosure Fraud

Under Civil Code 2945.4, foreclosure fraud is when you impersonate or self-appoint to be a foreclosure agent and pretend that you can postpone or prevent the closure of a home facing foreclosure. You then charge homeowners exuberant fees without even performing your duties or making them sign false contracts that will not help solve their house foreclosure state.

Under California laws, foreclosure fraud is treated as a wobbler and could see you face misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the nature of the crime. You could be convicted of a year's jail time if the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a maximum of 3 years in prison if charged as a felony.

Forging Deeds Fraud

Under Penal Code 115, forging is considered the deliberate altering, creating, or using of real estate files or documents to commit fraud. You commit forging deed fraud when you deliberately file, record, or register a forged real estate document in a government office in California.

Forging deeds fraud is a felony punishable by up to 16 months, 2 or 3 years in prison, depending on the nature of the facts presented to the court.

Laws on Rent Skimming

In California, you commit rent skimming fraud when you:

  • Claim the rental fee on a property where you are not the owner and use the money for your use.

  • Use rent collected from your property in the first year of purchasing it instead of paying your mortgage first.

Penalties accrued usually revolve around fines, but if you have committed fraud on more than five properties in two years, you could be charged with the crime in court.

Straw Buyer Schemes

A "straw buyer" scheme is a fraud crime committed when you convince a person with a higher credit score than you to sign up for a mortgage on your behalf since you cannot access it due to your low credit score. The mortgage purchaser here is referred to as a "straw." Once they transfer the house, you fail to remit monthly mortgage payments, leaving the other individual distraught as they now have to pay the costs accrued or face criminal charges.

Property Flipping Fraud

Property flipping is legal in California. It involves purchasing a property at a price below its market value. Once you purchase it, you can refurbish or renovate it and sell it at a higher price than you paid.

However, you commit fraud when you intentionally try to sell it at an inflated price by engaging in fraudulent acts of falsifying the amount of money you borrowed or used in its refurbishment or renovation.

Illegal property flipping is a crime that is punishable under several laws. The prosecutor has to review your case individually to assess which statutes apply to your lawsuit. Some of the regulations you could have violated include grand theft or wire fraud.

Predatory lending

You violate California laws when you charge high-interest rates or high fees for a loan while lending money to a borrower who is not aware of the transaction rates of the loan. Other fraudulent acts a loan lender could engage in include:

  • Placing a credit-worthy client on a lower credit-rated loan, which could even have higher interest rates. As a result, the lender benefits from the transaction, not the borrower.

  • Use deceptive words or actions to lure borrowers into accessing loans they will not be able to pay back because of their high interest. Lenders often take advantage of the borrower’s lack of know-how on financial loan transactions.

Financial Fraud Crimes

The most common types of financial fraud in California include the following:

Check Fraud

Under Penal Code 476, you engage in check fraud by using, making, or possessing a check to defraud a payee, and this is done by passing the check as a genuine document. Changing or increasing the value of the check or the name of the individual on the check warrants check fraud charges.

Check fraud in California is charged as a wobbler crime. Penalties include a jail time of one year or a $1000 fine if convicted of a misdemeanor. Felony penalties have a 16-month, 2, or 3-year prison term plus a maximum of $10000 as a fine.

Credit Card Fraud

You commit credit card fraud when you intentionally use a credit card not yours to purchase commodities without the owner's authorization. Some other forms of credit card fraud include:

  • If you are attempting to use your credit card and know it has expired or been revoked.

  • The selling of fake credit cards by creditors.

The penalties for credit card fraud depend on the nature of the crime committed.

Forgery and Identity Theft

Under California forgery laws, forging signatures or documents is a fraudulent act. Examples of forgery offenses are:

  • Forging a Driver’s License or Identity Card.

  • Forging, possessing, or counterfeiting fraudulent public seals.

  • False Impersonation Law.

  • Internet Fraud.

You violate California laws when you make or use a counterfeit driver’s license or identity card. You will be charged with fraud if you alter any government document in any way. You face identity theft charges when you possess, forge, or counterfeit a public seal to gain another person’s identity and to defraud the person.

You run afoul of false impersonation laws in California if you attempt to pass yourself off as another person to gain benefits from a program or service. An example is when you try to earn money by signing a check in another person’s name and attempting to cash it as your own.

Most impersonation crimes happen via the internet when you attempt to purchase commodities by using another person’s credit card without authorization or by signing in to an unsuspecting individual’s social media account and posing as that person.

Internet Fraud

You violate California internet fraud statutes when you act fraudulently to gain benefits via various online platforms such as online shopping stores, chat rooms, or e-mail. Some other forms of internet fraud are:

  • Creating or forwarding a computer virus to other people's phones or corporations to intentionally tamper with their data.

  • Cyberstalking.

Fraud Involving Elders

Fraud crimes involving the elderly can be categorized into:

Nursing Home Fraud

You violate elder abuse statutes in California when you emotionally, financially, or physically abuse senior citizens (65 years and older). Financial abuse occurs when a caregiver intentionally convinces an elderly person to sign over their property to them or when you forge a check in the name of one of the elderly. Other forms of nursing fraud include double billing or overbilling the prices of the services provided to seniors.

Senior Fraud

Some of the schemes that qualify for senior fraud include:

  • Credit repairing schemes

  • Telemarket schemes

  • Home repairing schemes

Senior fraud can be treated as a wobbler. Penalties include one year of jail time for a misdemeanor or a five-year prison term if convicted of a felony.

Miscellaneous Fraud Offenses

Some of the miscellaneous fraud cases in California include:

Gambling Fraud

You violate Penal Code 332 when you deliberately use fraudulent acts to gain money or property belonging to another person through tricks, card games, or scams. Some actions that embody gambling fraud are cheating during card games, other gambling activities, or fake fortune-telling.

Gambling fraud could be prosecuted as a wobbler, and you could incur penalties depending on the amount of money involved. The court convicts you of a misdemeanor offense when the amount is less than $950. The court could impose punishment for a felony crime if the amount is over $950.

Telemarketing Fraud

Under Business and Professions Code 17511.9, you could be charged with fraud if you create a fraudulent business scheme to sell a commodity.

Telemarketing fraud is a wobbler that could see you face a sentence of a year in jail if convicted of a misdemeanor offense or a 3-year prison sentence if convicted of a felony offense.

Fraud Involved in Handicapped Parking Slots

You violate handicapped parking statutes when:

  • You deliberately use a forged or expired placard to access a handicapped parking slot.

  • You lend your handicapped placard to persons not entitled to use it to gain benefits from them.

  • You use a disabled person’s placard to access the parking slot for the disabled, yet you are not physically challenged.

Legal Defenses Against Fraud In California

If you are arraigned in court for fraud, it is not wise for you to take the charges lightly, as you could be sentenced to serve jail time or a prison term that would be detrimental to you as an individual. Therefore, you must seek the services of an experienced attorney to prove your innocence, have your sentence reduced, or have your charges dismissed.

Common legal defenses to fraud include:

  • The police entrapped you into committing the fraudulent act. The court could acquit you if your lawyer provides evidence that the police lured you into engaging in fraudulent activities.

  • It is a case of mistaken identity where you have a striking resemblance to the one who committed the fraud or in cases where there was no eye witness as the scam was done behind the scenes.

  • There is no substantial evidence to prove you are guilty of fraud.

  • You were unaware that a scheme was fraudulent as you are not the mastermind behind it.

  • The plaintiff incurred no loss or injury.

Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me

In California, fraud involves deliberate fraudulent acts performed on an unsuspecting individual for the criminal to gain undeserved benefits that may cause loss to the individual. Keeping in mind that fraud is a broad type of crime, it is important to note that penalties differ from one type to another depending on the amount defrauded and the nature of the offense.

You could face several penalties if convicted of fraud, which could be detrimental to your life or career. It is vital that when you face fraud charges, you engage an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you build a solid defense for your case. The lawyer must have helped many defendants with similar charges have them lowered or dismissed.

We at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney are always ready to assist you, regardless of the type of fraud crime you face. We are on standby to review your case and fight for your rights to achieve a favorable outcome. For consultation services and to talk to a lawyer, contact us at 424-333-0943 at any time.