Fraud is a crime that many people equate with theft, but there is a distinction. There is also a distinction between criminal fraud and civil fraud.  The basic difference between theft and fraud is that theft generally involves taking something through force or by stealth, where fraud revolves around a purposeful misrepresentation of fact, and the basic difference between criminal fraud and civil fraud lies in who is pursuing legal action in the case. A single act of fraud can be prosecuted as a criminal fraud by prosecutors, and also as a civil action by the party that was the victim of the misrepresentation.


Whether criminal or civil, fraud generally has several legal elements, including the following:


  • Misrepresentation of a material fact
  • Knowledge on the part of the accused that they were misrepresenting the fact
  • The misrepresentation was made purposefully, with the intent of fooling the victim
  • The victim believed the misrepresentation and relied upon it
  • The victim suffered damages as a result of the misrepresentation


When a person is accused of criminal fraud, the case is brought by either local, state or federal prosecutors, who have to prove that they intended to commit the misrepresentation and to gain from it. These cases can be pursued even if the fraud was not successful and nobody was actually harmed. Common examples of criminal fraud include:


  • Mail fraud
  • Wire fraud
  • Racketeering
  • Securities fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Tax evasion
  • Bankruptcy fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Bank fraud
  • Counterfeiting


By contrast, a civil fraud case is brought to court by the person who was defrauded, who needs to prove that the defendant materially misrepresented the fact, that the fact was false and they knew that it was false, that they did so with the intention of getting the victim to act on the misrepresentation and that the victim acted reasonably in believing the misrepresentation. In addition to all of these elements, the victim needs to show that they suffered a damage as a result of the misrepresentation. The biggest difference between a civil fraud case and a criminal case, beyond who is pursuing it, is that actual damage needs to have occurred in a civil case.


The goal of pursuing both a criminal fraud case and a civil fraud case is to get justice and punish the wrongdoer, but the punishments that result from a guilty verdict are very different. In the case of criminal fraud, the accused faces the possibility of incarceration or probation, as well as of having to pay fines and possibly make restitution to any victims that may have been damaged. In a civil fraud case, the punishment sought is generally compensation for the damage that was suffered by the victim.


If you have been the victim of fraud and need information on how to get justice, contact the Philadelphia law firm of Bochetto & Lentz. We have successfully pursued civil fraud cases on behalf of many clients, and can provide you with the legal representation that you need.


Learn more about Criminal Fraud vs Civil Fraud here: