Theft by deception is similar to a regular theft charge, which is the illegal taking of property that belongs to another person with the intent to deprive the person of their property. Theft by deception is different in that it requires that you employed a deceptive act or used deceptive words to persuade the person to give them your property.
States have different definitions and laws regarding theft by deception. But they will usually have language that includes ‘words or conduct that were used to create a false impression with the victim.’ For instance, if a person pretends they own a construction company and takes money from someone under the guise of doing a construction project they never complete, this could be charged in many states as theft by deception. It is irrelevant if the victim gave money to the person voluntarily, as long as it is proven that the victim was relying upon the representations given.
Theft by deception is committed if the following factors exist, in most state laws:
- Creates or reinforces an incorrect impression, such as false impression as to value, intention, law or other state of mind
- Prevents another party from acquiring information that would affect judgment of a transaction
- Fails to correct an improper impression that the accused previously reinforced or created
- Uses a charge plate or credit card to pay for services in the name of another person
Theft By Deception Penalties
Depending upon the state in which the offense occurs, a theft by deception charge may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. The level of offense usually depends upon the value of the property stolen. For instance, in Texas, stealing a car by deception worth $2000 would result in a state jail felony, but a car worth $30,000 would get you a third degree felony charge. Other states make the theft of specific types of items felonies.
Sentencing for a misdemeanor theft by deception conviction could be a year of probation or as much as two years in county jail. Felony theft by deception penalties can range from probation to up to 20 years in state prison.
Prosecutors may feel motivated to offer a plea bargain for theft by deception cases. They recognize it can be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the ‘deception’ part of the crime. Also, many victims of theft by deception need restitution, so the prosecution has incentive to let you stay out of jail and work.
As you consider how to plea to a theft by deception charge, it is important to resolve any other pending charges. It is common for a theft by deception charge to include a charge of document by deception. If the victim of the crime signed over title to property based upon your deceptive act, you could also be charged for the additional crime of document by deception. Some states also allow the defendant to be convicted of both offense when you are faced with both charges. This in a sense can give the state more than one way to convict you.
When the conviction is done, it also can have consequences on the civil side. A guilty plea in the criminal theft by deception case could be used in a civil lawsuit as well. Also, if the conviction in the criminal theft by deception case requires you to pay restitution, some states will allow victims to enforce the judgment as they would a civil judgment. In states where this is the law, the victim could attach your property to satisfy the debt. Paying restitution can be financially difficult, but you cannot declare bankruptcy to get out of paying back what you owe.
Specific states’ theft by deception punishments include the following:
The New Jersey theft statute is Section 2C:20-3. The level of crime depends upon the value of the property stolen:
- $75,000 or more: 2nd degree theft by deception; five to 10 years in state prison
- $500 to $75,000: 3rd degree theft by deception; three to five years in state prison
- $200 to $500: 4th degree theft by deception; may receive probation if you have no previous criminal record
The Illinois theft statute is 720 ILCS 5/16-1-3. Theft or theft by deception can be prosecuted in several ways:
- $500 or less: class 3 felony punishable by two to 15 years in state prison
- $500 to $10,000: class 3 felony punishable by two to 15 years in state prison
- $100,000 or more: class 2 felony punishable by three to seven years in state prison
- $500,000 or less: class 1 felony punishable by four to 15 years in state prison
- $1,000,000 or less: class 1 felony punishable by four to 15 years in state prison
Theft statutes in Florida are in Section 812.005. There is no specific statute for theft by deception, but below are the penalties for theft:
- First degree grand theft: Property is $100,000 or more; up to 30 years in state prison
- Second degree grand theft: Property is worth between $20,000 and $99,999; up to 15 years in state prison
- Third degree grand theft: Property is worth $300 to $19,999; maximum of five years in jail
- First degree petty theft: Property is worth $100 to $299; maximum penalty is one year in jail
- Second degree petty theft: Property is worth less than 100; maximum of 60 days in jail
Theft By Deception Defenses
Some of the common defenses to a theft by deception charge are:
- Lack of intent. If you can show beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not intend to deceive anyone and take the property in question, you may not be convicted of the crime.
- Asserting the victim gave you the property. If the alleged victim gave you permission to use or take the property, it is difficult for the prosecution to convict you.
- State of mind. Your defense attorney also can probe the state of mind of the alleged victim when the alleged theft occurred.
It is challenging in some cases for the prosecution to prove deception, unless there is documented evidence that you attempted to pretend you were someone else.
Theft By Deception Cases
- NJ Man Accused of Theft By Deception of 90 Year Old Woman – A man in New Jersey has been accused of scamming a 90 year old woman out of $5000. He is awaiting extradition to Maine for several criminal charges, including theft by deception.
- Sentencing Set for Nebraska Theft by Deception Case – Kreig Landrum from York NE has pleaded no contest to theft by deception of $1500 to $4000, which is a class 4 felony. He was charged originally with a class 2A felony but a plea bargain was made. The man was charged because he stole money from his employers.
- Bad Check Writer Charged – Joshua K. Stryker, 34, was charged with theft by deception for writing bad checks at a grocery store for the amount of $643.
- Kentucky Woman Charged With Fraud and Theft By Deception – Savannah Criswell has been charged with fraud, theft by deception and trying to pass a bad check at a bank in Pennsylvania. She allegedly wore a disguise at a drive thru lane and tried to cash a stolen check with a stolen ID and ATM card.
- White Collar Crimes – Theft By Deception. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://criminal-law.freeadvice.com/criminal-law/white_collar_crimes/theft-by-deception.htm
- Theft By Deception Definition. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://definitions.uslegal.com/t/theft-by-deception/