How to Fight Fraud Charges in Maryland

First, know the laws at play. Second, call a lawyer

By S.M. Oliva

Misunderstandings in business happen all of the time. Not every mistake, error, or breach of contract is a crime. But when you have been accused of “fraud,” you need to take the charge very seriously. Fraud carries both civil and criminal legal connotations, and if you are not careful, you may find yourself in quite a bit of legal trouble.

According to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, fraud in tort law occurs whenever there is a “promise made with a present intention not to perform it.” In other words, fraud requires a deliberate misrepresentation of a person's intentions to do something, which then has the effect of causing financial or other injury to someone else. A mere breach of contract is not fraud absent evidence of such intent.

Fraud in the criminal context relies on statute rather than common law. At the state level, Title 8 of the Maryland Criminal Code defines a number of fraud-based offenses. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Check Fraud—Passing a bad check is one of the oldest forms of criminal fraud. If you issue a check knowing you do not have the funds to cover it, that is check fraud under Maryland law. The fact you may expect to have sufficient funds at a later date is irrelevant. Similarly, if you issue a check with the intent payment will be refused, either because the bank declines it or you stop payment, you can be charged with criminal check fraud.
  • Credit Card Fraud—It is also a crime to use or sell a stolen or counterfeit credit card. This can include using a lost credit card you find on the ground or even making a false statement to a financial institution in order to obtain credit. If you actually use a fraudulent credit card to obtain goods or services, you can face felony charges.
  • Identity Fraud—It is against the law to intentionally assume another person's identity, whether to obtain a financial benefit or simply to avoid identification, perhaps because you are wanted for another crime.
  • Public Assistance Fraud—The state of Maryland operates a number of public assistance programs where eligibility is based on financial need. Misrepresenting your financial status in order to obtain such benefits, including food stamps, is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. Please note that you can also be charged with public assistance fraud if you assist someone else in obtaining benefits under false pretenses.
  • Fraud Against the Elderly & Vulnerable Persons—Under Maryland law, an individual who is at least 68 years old or suffers from a mental disability is considered a “vulnerable adult.” A person who exploits a vulnerable adult through the use of “deception, intimidation, or undue influence” designed to deprive the victim of his or her property is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

“It varies so much from case to case, and there’s a multitude of kinds of intent to defraud, but they all come down to the same thing: Is somebody getting something of value by passing along information or property that they have no right to pass along, or by taking something they have no right to possess, own, or control, even temporarily?” says Paul F. Kemp, a criminal defense attorney at Ethridge Quinn Kemp McAuliffe Rowan & Hartinger in Rockville.

If you are accused of fraud—whether at the state or federal level—it is critical to speak with a criminal defense lawyer right away. They will know the intricacies of the law and ways to defend your case, based on the variables at play.

“The way to build a defense is to find out the strength of the case that the government or state has. Is there a deficiency in the case that shows a lack of intent to fraud? Is there an innocent explanation for the conduct that constitutes of the offense? What are the elements of the offense? A lot of them require proof of a specific victim, and sometimes it’s unclear who that is,” Kemp says. 

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