Is the ‘crime of false pretenses’ the same as fraud?

crime fraudThe crime of false pretenses can be more succinctly described as fraud, but it is not a term that can be easily explained since what constitutes a crime of false pretenses varies from state to state. There are some common circumstances across all states though: the criminal secures ownership of the victim’s property by telling a falsehood. An important distinction is that it is not possession of the property that is secured, but ownership. For example, a criminal could induce an old lady to transfer title of her property to him without ever entering, or living in the property. If on the other hand he pretended to be a relative in order to live with her without paying rent then this would not be a crime of false pretenses as he does not take ownership; instead it would be one of larceny by trick.


If an innocent mistake is made then this is not a crime of false pretenses because the perpetrator either has to know that he is lying for gain, or be found to be reckless with regards to whether the information is a lie. Prosecutors can find it difficult to prove charges of reckless misrepresentation because it means that the defendant does not care one way or the other about the accuracy of the information, and it can be hard to establish that the defendant had no information regarding the inaccuracy used to secure ownership.

In the crime of false pretenses the misrepresentation must relate to a fact, either from the past or in the present. Just making a false promise about something, even if there is no intent to keep it, is not sufficient to constitute misrepresentation in the context of this crime. The criminal must also make an affirmative statement – he must make a false statement, as simply allowing the victim to believe something false without correcting them is insufficient to be charged with the crime of false pretenses (unless the defendant can be shown to have created this false impression). Other conditions for the crime are that there must be intent to defraud, and the misrepresentation must be a material reason for the victim to transfer ownership of the property.

Some of the different types of fraud are bankruptcy fraud, securities fraud, identity theft, insider trading, credit card fraud, telemarketing fraud, money laundering, home repair fraud, and embezzlement. But only the circumstances discussed in this article will lead to charges of a crime of false pretenses. This is not a crime that is typically discussed as one of the types of computer crimes, but some internet fraudsters may augment their online crime with activities that fall under the definition of false pretenses.

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