Numerous forms of conduct are punishable as fraud crimes under the Texas Penal Code. Instead of the violence or threats associated with other forms of criminal conduct, fraud crimes involve deception, misrepresentation and other non-violent activities. Commonly referred to as white collar crimes, fraud charges are serious criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment and substantial fines.
Law enforcement agencies and local prosecutors take victim complaints of fraudulent conduct very seriously. Fraud crimes cost individual victims, businesses and the government millions of dollars each year. Apprehending and punishing those who commit fraud crimes is no less important for police and district attorneys than catching and prosecuting violent offenders.
Fraud Crimes in Houston
Most fraud crimes in the state are found in Chapter 32 of the Texas Penal Code containing 22 separate sections identifying types of fraud crimes. Some of the crimes defined in Chapter 32 include:
- Criminal simulation
- Trademark Counterfeiting
- Fraudulent transfer of a motor vehicle
- Issuance of a bad check
- Commercial bribery
- Fraudulent use or possession of identifying information
- Credit card or debit card abuse
Conduct that might not appear to be criminal in nature can get a person in trouble as a fraud crime in Texas. For example, a person who alters the condition of a piece of furniture to make it appear old so it can be sold as an antique might be committing the crime of criminal simulation under section 32.22 of the Texas Penal Code.
Obtaining another person’s identifying information, such as social security number, name or electronic access codes or passwords might be a violation of section 32.51 of the Texas Penal Code. Fraudulent use or possession of identifying information is commonly referred to as identity theft and is a state jail felony.
A person can be charged under the fraud crimes laws in Texas for making a representation that is known to be false or intentionally not disclosing information to the detriment of the party to whom disclosure should have been made. A seller who conceals information about the condition of a home from a buyer might be committing a fraud crime.
Penalties and Consequences of Fraud Crimes
The penalties for fraud crimes range from thousands of dollars in fines to imprisonment. The severity of the penalty depends upon the conduct constituting the offense and the harm done to the victim. For example, identity theft can be prosecuted as a state jail felony with a penalty of 180 days to 2 years in state jail, or it can be a felony of the third degree punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison. Courts are also empowered to order a convicted offender to pay restitution to the victim of the criminal conduct.
Houston Defenses to Fraud Charges
The facts of each case will differ, but intent and knowledge are essential elements of most fraud crimes. A common defense strategy to challenge the prosecution evidence to show that the suspect did not know that the conduct was fraudulent or that it was not intended to mislead or deceive the victim.