Fraud: Criminal Charges and Penalties in Texas
Fraud is a criminal charge in which a person gets property or money by some form of trickery. That could be using checks or credit cards that belong to someone else, presenting forged documents, or lying on a credit application.
In Texas, fraud is not treated as seriously as crimes like burglary or robbery, but there can still be significant penalties in cases involving large sums. Fraud charges are generally misdemeanors or state jail felonies and range upward depending on the amount stolen.
The police will rely on document evidence when charging you in a case such as check fraud or credit card fraud. They’ll use signed checks, credit card receipts, credit applications or even your Internet address if the fraud was committed online.
Acts of Fraud Under Texas Criminal Law
You can be charged with fraud-related offense if the police suspect you have done any of these:
1. Check forgery – Stealing an unsigned check from someone else for the purpose of passing it as yours, even without actually passing it. Or filling in, signing and passing a check that does not belong to you, without the owner’s permission. You don’t have to be the one who stole the check to be charged. Accepting a check you know was stolen is also fraud under Texas law.
2. Credit card fraud – Using a credit card or debit card that you know has been canceled or expired or using a card that belongs to someone else without the person’s permission. Merely possessing a card that doesn’t belong to you with the intent to use it is enough for a fraud charge. So is buying, selling or accepting cards that you know to be stolen. And, so is convincing someone else to buy something with a card when you know the person doesn’t have the means to pay for it.
3. Credit fraud – Lying in any way on a written application for a loan, goods or property, or a credit card. This could include giving a fake or stolen Social Security number, giving a fake name and address, or misrepresenting your income, financial obligations and ability to pay.
4. Identity theft – Obtaining, possessing, or using the personal identification information, such as name, Social Security number and date of birth, of another person with the intent to commit fraud. This includes information that belongs to a child under 18, a deceased person, or a person who was stillborn. Texas criminal law automatically presumes your intent was to commit fraud if you have information for three or more people.
It’s important to remember that with many of these fraud-related offenses, you can be charged even if you have not used the check, card, or personal information. Just having them can often be the basis for the police to charge you.
The Penalties for Fraud
There are a wide range of possible penalties for a criminal charge of fraud.
Check forgery is a state jail felony, and stealing or receiving a stolen check is a Class A misdemeanor. Credit card fraud is a state jail felony, punishable by fines and up to two years in a state jail. Credit fraud varies by amount and identity theft varies by the number of identification items.
Penalties for Identity Theft in Texas are as follows:
|No. of items||Classification||Penalty|
|Less than 5||State jail felony||180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or a fine of not more than $10,000|
|5 or more, but less than 10||Third-degree felony||2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000|
|10 or more, but less than 50||Second-degree felony||2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000|
|50 or more||First-degree felony||5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000|
Additionally, if you are convicted of identity theft, the judge can order you to pay restitution to the victims, including any lost income or other expenses incurred while trying to resolve problems caused by the theft.
Avoiding Jail on Texas Fraud Charges
Since most fraud-related charges are in the misdemeanor and state jail felony range, you have a good chance of receiving community service on fraud charges if it is your first offense and the case does not involve large sums.
However, a conviction could still affect your future, barring you from getting certain jobs in retail or financial fields or in any other profession where you might have access to money or other people’s personal information.
We can help you fight these fraud and related criminal charges. The state has to prove that you were the person who passed the forged checks, signed the receipts, applied for credit, or made the purchase online, and the state has to prove that you acted with criminal intent.
We may be able to challenge the witness statements or documents, if we have grounds to argue that the witness is mistaken or that the signature on the documents is not yours, or we may be able to argue that you did not knowingly attempt to commit fraud.