What are False Pretenses?
False pretenses are often utilized to commit property crimes that are perpetrated through the use of fraud. Individuals illegally gain property by misrepresenting the facts as they were known in the past, or as they are currently known in the present. False pretense can not be utilized when making claims about the future since humans cannot possibly know what will happen in the future.
It is difficult to prove that an individual has made false promises about the future since it can be difficult to prove that they did not actually believe what they said would happen. For example, an individual that says an item will lose value in the coming months may or may not be correct. In either case, it would be difficult to prove that the individual had intent to deceive in order to gain property through that deception.
False pretenses are often utilized by criminals that seek to gain personal property by deceiving the owner of that property on facts about the value of the property. In most jurisdictions, false pretenses can be included in a charge on any crime that relates to property or theft of objects that have monetary value.
While the original intent of false pretense laws was to prevent the transfer of property title based on fraud, the law now covers a wide range of property and items of value. In fact, false pretenses can be utilized to steal tangible or intangible property. The criminal must be aware that they are misrepresenting the facts and utilize that deception to gain possession of property that rightfully belongs to another person.
Obtaining Title to Property
The title to property grants the title holder a bundle of rights that pertain to a certain property or structure. Those rights are limitless and often specific to certain properties and structures. For example, some titles grant the owner rights to water and sewers while others do not. Individuals that utilize false pretenses to acquire the tile to property can only be charged once they actually receive the title and the bundle of rights associated with it.
In order to prove that they used false pretense to acquire the title, it is necessary that the previous title holder had no doubts about the statements made by the new owner.For example, an individual that transferred title even though they doubted statements made by the person wishing to obtain the title cannot press charges because they were not truly deceived.
The person that received the title must have been able to fool the previous title owner by misrepresenting facts from the past or facts based on the present situation. They must have defrauded the previous holder of the title willfully and effectively in order to be charged with a crime. In other words, the person must have knowingly deceived the title holder rather than presenting false facts that they believed to be true.
In addition, the previous holder of title must have only relinquished the title because of the fraud, absent of any other factors. If the deceit took place after the previous title holder had already decided to relinquish their property rights, no crime has taken place. The person that obtained property rights can also not be charged if they failed to make a disclosure. The deceit must be in the affirmative.
Knowingly or Recklessly Making a False Representation
Although the term false pretenses is no longer utilized in English law, it is still used in many of the United States criminal laws. English law now uses the term deceit, or crimes of deception, to cover crimes of similar circumstance. However, the idea is basically the same. In both cases, the accused knowingly and recklessly makes a false representation in order to gain property from another person who is entitled to ownership of that property. That means that the individual knew that the statements they made were false and said them anyway as a way of achieving their goal of obtaining the property of another.
If, however, a person makes false statements, without knowing they are false, they are not knowingly misrepresenting the facts. A person that misinforms someone because they are misinformed is not knowingly deceiving another person. In order to knowingly and recklessly deceive a person, the perpetrator must know that they are deceiving the owner of the property in order to obtain the transfer of property rights.
Of Pecuniary Significance
Pecuniary is a word used to describe something that has financial value. Individuals that gain property rights through deception or false pretense likely end up with property that has pecuniary value. In fact, the crime must contain an element of financial gain or no crime has been committed. Pecuniary significance can get rather confusing due to the real and perceived financial value of a piece of property, goods and services.
A criminal may use false pretense to gain valuable property, such as a title to land. Yet, they may find that they are unable to sell the land and may claim that there is no pecuniary significance to that piece of property. However, the land does have pecuniary significance, even if it is smaller than what the criminal believed it was.
In crimes that involve false pretense, the actual pecuniary significance of a piece of property is not as important as the fact that the property does have some sort of financial value, no matter how small.
Intend to, and does, Defraud the Victim
In order to be guilty of utilizing false pretenses in order to gain the property of another, the individual must intend to defraud their victim and then complete the transfer of property through that fraud. For example, a person that intends to acquire the title to a property by telling the title holder that they will lose money by holding onto the property must know that fact is not true.
In addition, that person must actually obtain the title to property because of that deceit or misrepresentation of fact. Perhaps they told the property owner that home values in the area were on a steep decline due to new building permit laws, when in fact there were no new laws set to take effect. While the homeowner should have done research, they were defrauded and convinced to transfer title based on false pretenses.
If, however, the homeowner doubted the fact and transferred the title anyway, then no crime has been committed. In order for the crime to be committed, the criminal must have intended to defraud the victim, completed some transaction based on false pretense and convinced the victim of facts.
If the victim was not convinced and transferred the title anyway, no crime has been committed because the victim was not completely deceived.
Theft Act 1968
The Theft Act of 1968 was one of many steps meant to more clearly define some theft laws in the United Kingdom. Previous to this Act, prosecutors often had a difficult time prosecuting crimes that involved an individual obtaining property through fraudulent activity.
The Criminal Law Revision Committee in the United Kingdom sought to make laws on theft more clear and succinct. Previously, the laws were unclear, lengthy and confusing for both prosecutors and criminals.
The major premise of the new, streamlined laws was that a person was guilty if they committed theft of property that rightly belongs to another with the intention of permanently depriving the person of their property.
In addition, they must have committed that theft through false pretense or by utilizing deception to get the victim to transfer ownership of said property. In other words, the criminal has no intention of returning the property to its rightful owner.
The Theft Act of 1968 incorporated dishonesty in the wording of laws, which helped to further explain deceit and false pretense. The Act also streamlined laws that related to burglary, robbery and other theft-related crimes in which criminals sought to prevent the rightful owners of property from retaining ownership of any property which had monetary value.
Theft Act 1978
The United Kingdom has sought to constantly update laws in order to make them clear and current with the times. In addition, the laws are meant to be easily understood and prosecuted. In fact, the laws are written in such a way that they are all inclusive of theft, regardless of other intervening factors.
In the previous Act of 1968, certain crimes were defined as crimes committed through the use of false pretenses. In the new Act, the crimes were more clearly defined as crimes of deception. The wording of the new laws allowed more crimes to be included within each section which prevented criminals from finding loopholes in the wording.
Fraud Act 2006
The Fraud Act of 2006 was built on previous Theft Acts in the United Kingdom. The new Act more clearly defined many aspects of theft laws. First, the term false pretenses was no longer used to describe these types of crimes. The Acts were considered crimes of fraud.
The Act divided fraud into three clear categories so that citizens could easily understand what acts constituted fraud. Fraud committed through the use of false pretense was more efficiently described as fraud committed by false representation, failure to disclose pertinent information and abuse of power from a person in authority.
In all cases, the perpetrator misrepresents facts in order to gain the property rights that rightfully belong to another person.