We all know what fraud is: at its simplest, it’s when somebody lies to you in order to get something from you. But what few people realize is that when they’ve been the victim of a fraud, the way the act was perpetrated determines whether actions are pursued in a civil court or in a criminal court.
While criminal fraud can result in jail time and is prosecuted by a district attorney, public prosecutor or some other representative of law enforcement, civil fraud is pursued on a victim’s behalf by a private attorney who works to establish that the lies and misrepresentations upon which the plaintiff relied led to provable damage. The remedy (if the point is proven) is compensation for those damages. Where criminal fraud needs to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, civil fraud is more a matter of judgment and relies on “the balance of probabilities.” The defendant doesn’t need to be found guilty – they simply need to be found liable for the damages that the victim has suffered, and those damages can be loss of money, loss of a job, lost opportunities, and more. The defendant can also be pursued for punitive damages, which are specifically meant to punish them for their actions.
Importantly, a prosecutor can prove that criminal fraud has occurred, and the perpetrator can be incarcerated as a result, but that does not necessarily reimburse the victim for the material damages that they have suffered. Only a civil fraud case can definitively provide the victim with compensation for their loss.
People who believe they have been victims of fraud generally pursue litigation because they want their day in court. They want the opportunity to tell their story and demonstrate that they have been victimized by somebody purposely misleading them, but what the court is more interested in is whether there have been actual damages. Without damages, there can be no successful pursuit of a civil fraud charge.
There are many different types of civil fraud, including theft, embezzlement and fraudulent real estate transactions. All of these examples have a set of commonalities, which include a lie being knowingly told to the plaintiff by the defendant, and the plaintiff acting on the lie in a way that caused them loss.
If you have been a victim of a fraud and you need representation, we can help. Contact us today to learn more about whether you are eligible to pursue a civil fraud case and what you can expect if you do so.