What Is Theft By Deception?

After Hurricane Sandy, a landlord claimed he had an apartment to rent. The landlord collected security deposits from over fifty people and never rented the apartment. This landlord was charged with Theft by Deception.

In New Jersey, Theft by Deception is defined in New Jersey Statute 2C:20-4. This is a crime that says a person is guilty of theft if the person purposely obtains the property of another by deception. Depending on the circumstances, a person could be charged with additional forms of theft, including Theft by Unlawful Taking – N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3, Receiving Stolen Property – N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7, Burglary – N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2.

Deception means purposely creating or reinforcing a false impression, including false impressions about the value, intention or other important facts. In addition to providing false information, a person can use deception if the person prevents another from acquiring important information. However, the person must know that the information is false in order to be committing a deception. For example, two men claimed to be raising money for a charity and kept the money. Since they knew they were not giving any money to the charity and created the false impression that they were raising money for a charity, these men committed Theft by Deception.

In addition, the law places additional requirements on a person in a fiduciary relationship, such as an executor of a will, guardian, trustee, conservator or anyone acting in a similar capacity. A person with a fiduciary relationship commits a deception if the person purposely fails to correct a false impression.

Finally, the law requires that the victim must have relied upon that deception and actually parted with the property. Property is anything of value, including personal property, trade secrets, contract rights, chooses in action and other interests in or claims to wealth, admission or transportation tickets, captured or domestic animals, food and drink, electric, gas, steam or other power, financial instruments, information, data, and computer software. Whatever the property, the deception must be the reason the person gave the property.

Law Enforcement often charges this crime when the person who parted with the property complains that you tricked them.

In order for the prosecution to convict you of Theft by Deception, they must prove the following elements:

  • That you obtained the property of another;
  • That you purposely obtained the property by deception; and
  • That the victim relied upon the deception in parting with the property.

Degree of Theft Crimes

In most case, the degree of the theft crime is determined usually by the value of the stolen items. In most cases, theft constitutes a crime of the second degree if the amount involved is $75,000.00 or more. Theft is a crime of the third degree if the amount involved exceeds $500.00 but is less than $75,000.00. Theft is a crime of the fourth degree if the amount involved is at least $200.00 but does not exceed $500.00. Finally, the theft is a disorderly person’s offense if the value is less than $200.

Theft Crimes

In addition, the law allows that the value of separate thefts can be aggregated, or added together, to create a higher total theft. As long as the separate thefts were committed pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct, the amounts may be added together to form a larger total amount. If a person deceived the victim on many occasions, all the money could be added together, which may be a higher degree of crime. In addition to the value, the law sets the degree of the theft crime on some types of property.

If you have been charged with a property theft or embezzlement-related offense, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. While the penalties and consequences of theft charges are governed by statutory law, only an experienced criminal defense attorney can tell you how strong the case against you appears to be, and how cases like yours tend to be handled by prosecutors and judges in your courthouse. An experienced lawyer can also advise you as to possible alternatives to criminal punishment. In many cases hiring a pre–filing theft crimes defense attorney in order to convince the prosecution to not file any charges or to file only disorderly person charges.