Under the common law, fraud is generally defined as an intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact made by one person to another with knowledge of its falsity and for the purpose of inducing the other person to act. This inducement upon which the other person relies on results in injury or damage. Simply put, it is an intentional misrepresentation that was properly relied upon by the plaintiff and caused the plaintiff damages.
Today, fraud is generally defined by the state legislature and courts, along with the rest of the criminal penalties. As a result, it can encompass many things from:
- Identity theft and related crimes
- Writing bad checks (check fraud)
- Illegal possession of an ID
- Insurance Fraud, including unemployment insurance fraud
- Workers compensation fraud
- Welfare fraud
- Credit card fraud
- Payroll fraud
- mortgage fraud
- bankruptcy fraud
- securities and investment fraud
Fraud is considered a white collar crime, and typically involves outright deception, breach of trust, and lies. Fraud can be either a misdemeanor or felony. In some circumstances (ie. investment fraud) it involves not lies, but the failure to disclose information. Because the definition of fraud has undergone change throughout the centuries, courts have always been careful to avoid defining fraud through a too rigid definition that would allow fraudulent practices to be without a remedy.
Fraud in Washington State
The Revised Code of Washington's “Fraud Statute” (Chapter 9a.60) explicitly covers: forgery, obtaining a signature by deception or duress, criminal impersonation in the 1st and second degree, false certification, and fraudulent creation/revocation of a mental health advanced directive, and false academic credentials.
a. Forgery (RCW 9A.60.020)
You may be charged with forgery if you falsely complete or alter a written instrument or possess, offer, or dispose of a written instrument that you know is forged. A written instrument encompasses any paper document with an access device, token, stamp, seal, badge, trademark, or other evidence or symbol of value, right, privilege, or identification. This means forgeries of a driver's license, check, passport, etc. are all encompassed under RCW 9A.60.020.
A conviction of forgery is a Class C felony punishable by imprisonment of 60 days and a $10,000 fine. Prior convictions of any crime can push up the prison term to 18 months.
b. Obtaining a signature by Duress (RCW 9A.60.030)
A person is guilty of this crime if s/he forces someone to sign or execute a written instrument. Obtaining a signature by deception or duress is a class C felony punishable by imprisonment of 60 days and a $10,000 fine.
c. Identity Theft (RCW 9A.60.040; RCW 9A.60.045)
Identity theft is also known as “criminal impersonation.” A person is guilty of 1st degree criminal impersonation if s/he:
- Assumes a false identity and acts in his or her assumed character with the intent to defraud or any other unlawful purpose;
- Pretends to be a representative of someone else or an organization and acts in that false capacity;
Similar to forgery, 1st degree criminal impersonation is a Class C felony punishable by up to one year imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
A person is guilty of 2nd degree criminal impersonation if s/he:
- Pretends to be a law enforcement officer and acts in that capacity;
- Falsely assumes the identity of a veteran or active duty military with the intent to defraud for the purposes of personal gain.
For example, pretending to be a veteran in order to gain certain medical, or employment, tax, benefits will be considered 2nd degree criminal impersonation. It is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a year imprisonment and a fine up to $5,000.
- False Certification (RCW 9A.60.050)
A person is guilty of false certification if s/he in his or her official capacity as an officer authorized to “proof or acknowledgment of an instrument which by law may be recorded,” “knowingly certifies falsely that the execution of such instrument was acknowledged.” This happens in the cases of notaries notarizing something, or those at the DMV office that issue driver's licenses.
Oftentimes, false certification charges are prosecuted in city courts with differing procedures and penalties. Although a misdemeanor charge may sounds relatively harmless, it can have a long-lasting impact on your ability to obtain housing, find employment and attend institutions of higher education. A conviction of false certification is also a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine.
e. False academic credentials (RCW 9A.60.070)
It is a gross misdemeanor if one falsely claims to have a credential s/he does not have to gain employment or any other personal gain. Alternatively, someone who hands out an academic credential (ie. unit) to someone who has not earned it commits a Class C felony.
Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Everett, King County, Snohomish County, Skagit County, Whatcom County and Kittitas County Area Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been arrested for, or charged with fraud, writing a bad check or any other white collar crime in Western Washington, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi today for help. As a former prosecutor, Seattle criminal defense lawyer Steve Karimi has defended many serious charges, including fraud, forgery, and identity theft. As a former prosecutor, he has the experience to be able to provide aggressive legal defenses for a variety of crimes. In many cases, Mr. Karimi is able cases dismissed in the Snohomish County Courts, as well as getting charges off your records. If you have been charged with any misdemeanor or felony in the greater Seattle area, contact the law offices of Steve Karimi today or call 206-660-6200 to schedule a free initial consultation.