Fraud in Washington, D.C.

Fraud is defined generally as either a knowing misrepresentation of the truth or a concealment of the truth that causes another person to act to his or her detriment.  While fraud is usually a “tort” (that is, a wrong that can be remedied through civil action), it can also be a crime.

There are several different kinds of fraud in Washington, D.C., including fraud in the first or second degrees, credit card fraud, and insurance fraud.

Fraud in the First Degree

Fraud in the First Degree has three elements.  The first requirement is that the person engage “in a scheme or systematic course of conduct.” This suggests that the offense does not occur with a spontaneous or one-time act.  Public welfare fraud, for example, usually occurs over a period of time or through multiple transactions.

The second element pertains to the criminal intent (or mens rea).  Specifically, this requires that the person intend “to defraud or to obtain property of another by means of a false or fraudulent pretense, representation, or promise.” Most jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., have done away with the common law crimes of larceny by trick and false pretenses.  While there is still considerable overlap between theft and fraud offenses, some of the wrongs that were traditionally considered theft could now be covered under fraud.

The third element – and the one that distinguishes fraud in the first degree from fraud in the second degree – is that the person succeeds either in obtaining the property or in causing the other person to lose the property.

If the value of the property in question is $250 or greater, the penalty for a conviction of fraud in the first degree is a maximum fine of $5,000 or three times the value of the property in question, whichever is greater, and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years.  If the value of the property in question is less than $250, the maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to 180 days.  D.C. Criminal Code 22-3221; D.C. Criminal Code 22-3222.

Fraud in the Second Degree

The elements of Fraud in the Second Degree are identical to the first two elements of Fraud in the First Degree.  The only difference between the two degrees is that with Fraud in the First Degree, the act is actually successful in defrauding the victim of his/her property.  In this sense, Fraud in the Second Degree could be considered attemptedfraud in the first degree.

If the value of the property in question is $250 or greater, the penalty for a conviction of fraud in the first degree is a maximum fine of $3,000 or three times the value of the property in question, whichever is greater, and/or imprisonment of up to 3 years.  If the value of the property in question is less than $250, the maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to 180 days.

Last update:  August 25, 2020