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False Pretenses - Misrepresenting Facts to Defraud

Oct 12, 2007
In the US, obtaining goods, property, information, etc. under false pretenses is a crime that includes cases outside the definition of theft or larceny. It comprises four things, which must be proven in court, to obtain a guilty charge.

* Obtaining ownership or title to
* The property of another person or entity by
* Intentionally making a false statement regarding current/past fact with
* The intention to defraud a person or entity.

Simply lying or making a false statement is not grounds for guilt. The victim of the crime should've actually been deceived and, in being so, should've transferred property or ownership on the basis of this deception.

A charge of false pretense requires some kind of misrepresentation. It isn't synonymous with failure to disclose information, unless there's such a legal obligation between the victim and the offender.

False Pretenses - When is it Misrepresentation?

US law also requires that the misrepresentation should be of a past or current fact. The reason for this is the belief that the victim should've exercised due caution in deciding to transfer ownership or possession based on some future fact.

The law holds that a person who deceives using present or past information is more dangerous than one who deceives with a false promise.

To get a guilty charge, it must be proven that a misrepresentation was not only false, but the offender KNEW it was false. The offender must also be shown to have a clear intention to defraud.

Overstating facts or giving opinions aren't considered by law as misrepresentations. They may color the facts, but they don't misrepresent them.

Information as a Prized Commodity

It used to be that obtaining property under false pretenses was the most common occurrence of this crime. Since the dawn of the Information Age, however, various kinds of data have taken the place of goods and property as the most precious commodities. Following are two examples from cases in corporate America.

1. Survey Ploys. A competitor, purporting to be a government agency or non-profit consumer group, will e-mail a survey to a company (or an employee of it) it wants to victimize. The survey will go beyond generally accepted methods of soliciting data. For instance, it may ask for proprietary info regarding:

a. corporate affiliations
b. purchasing practices
c. pricing policies
d. market projections
e. names of directors
f. dollar amounts of contracts

This is a common tactic for gathering competitive intelligence. The result may be anything from a lost bid to damage to the victim's competitive market advantage.

2. Headhunter Ploys. You may be targeted if you have specialized experience or knowledge in your field. A headhunter seeking an applicant for a certain position may call you by phone. Although this is a legitimate headhunter practice, some headhunters are illegitimate.

The bogus headhunter will conduct a phone interview to get information about your company. Wanting to impress the interviewer and land a better job you could be giving out sensitive info, such as sales projections and targets, staffing numbers, company infrastructure, etc.

If you aren't interested in the offer, the bogus headhunter may ask you about your business contacts that may be interested in the fictitious job.

Obtaining information under false pretenses may not be prosecuted because resulting loss or injury may be difficult to prove. In many cases, the victim may never even know he was victimized.
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