Theft and Fraud Crimes

Theft and fraud crimes are broad areas of Texas criminal law, encompassing crimes that range from common misdemeanors to federal white-collar crimes. As such, punishments for these crimes vary in their severity depending on many different factors including the victim of the crime, the value of the property that was stolen or fraudulently gained, and the way in which the offense was committed. Beyond the possible fines and/or sentences offenders may receive, the mere allegation of fraud or theft can be extremely damaging to an individual’s personal, communal, and professional life. If you are being accused of theft or fraud crimes in Texas, it is always best to face these charges head on with the assistance of a criminal defense attorney.

Theft

Texas law describes theft as unlawfully appropriating property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. The word theft might call to mind a caricature of a masked robber snatching a purse, and while this is an example of theft, theft can also take place in more indirect ways. For example, unlawfully acquiring goods or services by knowingly using of a worthless check is considered theft, as valuable property was still unlawfully obtained.

Theft penalties vary significantly in Texas, with offense classifications depending on the overall value of the property stolen. 

Texas theft penalties, classified by the value of the property involved in the theft:

  • Less than $100
    • Class C misdemeanor
    • Fines of up to $500
  • Between $100 and $750
    • Class B misdemeanor
    • Up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000
  • Between $750 and $2,500
    • Class A misdemeanor
    • Up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $4,000
  • Between $2,500 and $30,000
    • State jail felony
    • 180 days to 2 years in state jail and fines of up to $10,000
  • Between $30,000 and $150,000
    • 3rd degree felony
    • 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000
  • Between $150,000 and $300,000
    • 2nd degree felony
    • 2 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000
  • More than $300,000
    • 1st degree felony
    • 5 to 99 years in prison, or life in prison, and fines of up to $10,000

In addition to the overall value of the property stolen, certain types of theft are punished more severely than others.

Thefts automatically charged as state jail felonies:

  • Theft with 2 prior theft convictions, regardless of the value of the acquired property
  • Theft from a person (i.e. picking a person’s pockets directly)
  • Theft of a firearm
  • Any theft under $20,000 in value if metal including aluminum, copper, or brass is stolen
  • Theft of an official election ballot
  • Certain thefts of livestock

Thefts automatically charged as 3rd degree felonies:

  • Theft of trade secrets

Thefts automatically charged as 2nd degree felonies:

  • Theft of ATM machines

Theft charges may also be enhanced. In Texas, theft crimes may be enhanced depending on the nature of who the offender is, who the victim is, and the how the theft was carried out. An enhanced theft charge will be elevated to the next highest level of severity, resulting in lengthier jail or prison sentences, and oftentimes higher fines.

Enhanced thefts:

  • Theft committed by a public servant or public official
  • Theft from the government by a government contractor
  • Theft from an elderly person or nonprofit organization 
  • Theft from the government by a Medicare provider
  • Theft committed when a person tampered with a fire exit alarm or retail theft detector to prevent detection of the offense

Theft crimes can be complicated, with penalties ranging from relatively small fines to lengthy prison sentences depending on the specifics of the offense. If you are being charged with theft, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. While theft charges may be intimidating, a talented criminal defense attorney will help you understand the charges being brought against you and will fight for the best possible outcome in your case.

Fraud

Theft crimes and fraud crimes are commonly associated with each other, and in fact will share similar penalties, enhancements, and possible defenses. Fraud, however, is a fundamentally different crime than theft, as it involved the deliberate attempt to deceive another person; using deceit, false information, or misleading statements to receive money, goods, information, or services.

Additionally, many fraud crimes involve defrauding the government; when this occurs, the crime falls under federal jurisdiction and typically carries more severe penalties.

There are many different types of fraud detailed under Texas law. Some of the more common types of fraud are:

Forgery

Forgery involves acts such as using another person’s check without their permission, accepting a stolen check, making false entries on books or records, and creating false deeds or commercial documents.

Depending on the items and victims involved, these types of forgery are typically charged as either state jail felonies (punishable by 18 months to 2 years in jail and fines of up to $10,000) or Class A misdemeanors (punishable by up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $4,000).

Other types of forgery involving the use of paper money, revenue or postage stamps, stocks or bonds, or government records will be charged as 3rd degree felonies, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison with fines of up to $10,000.

Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when individuals wrongfully obtain someone else’s personal and identifying information and use it for their own financial gain. Commonly obtained information can include another person’s driver’s license, banking information, date of birth, and social security number.

Identity theft is considered a felony in Texas, with penalties and enhancements similar to Texas theft crimes, ranging from state jail felonies to 1st degree felonies.

Unlike regular theft, however, identity theft fraud crime penalties are classified by the number of items stolen, possessed, or transferred, not the overall value of the illegally obtained property. This means that individuals that possess even less than 5 units of other people’s identifying information may be charged with identity theft, a crime that is pursued aggressively in the state of Texas.

Bank Fraud

Bank fraud occurs when an individual uses false of misleading information to receive benefits from a financial institution, such as by lying on a loan, forging documentation, or using substitute “straw borrowers” to obtain more favorable contracts.

Bank fraud is increasingly common in mortgages, with potential borrowers often making false appraisals and statements to their banks.

Bank fraud is a federal crime with penalties of up to 30 years in federal prison and fines of up to $1,000,000. These crimes are taken very seriously by the government, and the punishments can be devastating. If you have been or are at risk of being charged of bank fraud, do not wait to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney; your freedom is on the line.

Credit Card Fraud

This type of fraud has recently been getting national media attention, and as such, is taken very seriously by the state. Credit card fraud occurs when an individual uses another person’s credit or debit card to make purchases without that person’s consent, or when an individual uses an expired card knowing that the card is expired or invalid.

These crimes are typically charged as state jail felonies, punishable by 18 months to 2 years in state prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Health Care Fraud

Health care fraud can be carried out by either consumers/patients OR by healthcare workers.

In the former case, health care fraud occurs when an individual attempt to receive medical services under false pretenses. This can occur if an individual lies on a health insurance form, uses someone else’s insurance to receive treatment, or attempts to receive personal prescriptions in order to sell them.

In the latter type, health care workers and administrators can commit fraud if they attempt to receive insurance payments and reimbursements that the hospital, clinic, or practice is not entitled to. This can often occur using underhanded or dishonest medical billing practices.

Health care fraud can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the amount of money illegally obtained. Federal health care fraud, however, can carry penalties as steep as 10-year prison sentences and $250,000 fines for each offense.

If you are being charged with theft or fraud, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

These charges can negatively impact your finances, employment, freedom and reputation. Depending on the details of your case, theft/fraud charges may result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and decades in prison. 

A talented criminal defense attorney will be able to fight on your behalf to get the best possible outcome. Although these crimes are taken seriously be the state, there are many ways to generate a successful defense. The state must prove multiple elements in order to convict you of theft or fraud; a criminal defense attorney may be able to seek a lesser offense, acquittal, deferred adjudication, or even an outright dismissal of your case. Do not hesitate to reach out.

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