Chicago Fraud & Forgery Lawyer
If you are convicted of fraud or forgery, you will face serious criminal penalties, civil liability, and personal repercussions. You may have to pay fines, spend time behind bars, and you may also need to pay restitution to the victims. Furthermore, your criminal conviction will be public information, visible to future employers and professional licensing boards, which can restrict your career prospects. Your reputation within your community will likely suffer too.
Fortunately, a skilled and experienced Chicago theft attorney may be able to help you avoid the devastating consequences of a fraud or forgery conviction. Do not plead guilty to your charges before consulting with an attorney, as there may be several defense strategies available in your case. There are many federal and Illinois laws that address fraud. Below you will find definitions and penalties for some of the most common offenses.
What is Fraud?
All of the crimes listed below involve the intent to defraud another person, an organization, or the government. In the American legal system, you are guilty of defrauding someone when:
- You knowingly misrepresent an important fact
- You intend for the victim to rely on this misrepresented fact
- The victim relies on that fact and is injured as a result
Your intent to defraud can exist even if the fraudulent scheme was not completed.
For example, if you lie about being the legal owner of a car you are hoping to sell, you have demonstrated the intent to commit fraud against the buyer. Thus, you may face charges for violating any applicable criminal statutes that include the element of fraudulent intent, such as forging the pink slip you used as proof of your ownership of the car. It doesn’t matter whether the person bought the car or not.
But if you complete the transaction–thus injuring the buyer–you may also face civil liability for committing fraud. In other words, the victims can sue you in civil court when they lose money because of your fraud. In just about every offense listed below, there is also the possibility of getting sued by the victim in addition to the prospect of facing criminal penalties.
Deceptive Practices and Bad Checks
720 ILCS 5/17 describes several fraudulent practices. The law describes “deceptive practice” as doing any of the following with the intent to defraud:
- Knowingly misleading or threatening another person to dispose of property or a financial interest
- As an officer or manager of a financial institution, knowingly receiving or permitting the receipt of a deposit or investment with the knowledge that the financial institution is insolvent
- Knowingly making false or deceptive public statements promoting the sale of property or services
You may be charged with “bad checks” if a prosecutor has evidence of the following:
- You issued a check with the intent to pay for property, labor, services, or a tax obligation knowing that the check will not be honored
- You delivered a check for an amount exceeding $150 to reimburse a creditor with the knowledge that it will not be honored, and you didn’t provide the funds within 7 days of receiving notice that the check did not go through
Other crimes against financial institutions include “false statement,” and “possession of fraudulent checks” which involve, respectively:
- Making a false statement to obtain an account with or credit from a bank or a financial institution with the knowledge that the statement is false and with the intent that it be relied upon
- Possessing or attempting to use a check to obtain funds from a bank with the knowledge that you are not authorized to use the check for that purpose.
Committing any of these offenses will result in Class A misdemeanor charges, carrying the possibility of up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $2,500. For second offenses–or first offenses with aggravating factors–the charges can be increased to Class 4 felony, involving 1 to 3 years in jail and/or fines of up to $25,000.
Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud
720 ILCS 5/17-24 defines the crimes of mail and wire fraud. A prosecutor may charge you with mail fraud when there is evidence that you devised or intended to devise a scheme to fraudulently obtain money or property or to sell a counterfeit or fake product by using either the United States Postal Service or a private carrier. Note that this offense applies whether you are the sender or the receiver of the mail.
Wire fraud concerns the same kind of fraudulent scheme, but instead of using the mail, the scheme involves transmitting from Illinois or allowing someone in the state to receive “any writings, signals, pictures, sounds, or electronic or electric impulses by means of wire, radio, or television communications.” This offense encompasses fraud enabled by email, phone calls, or even text messages.
Committing wire fraud or mail fraud is a Class 3 Felony. If convicted of either offense, you may face between 2 and 5 years in prison in addition to possible fines of up to $25,000.
State Benefits Fraud
According to 720 ILCS 5/17-6, you commit state benefits fraud when you obtain or attempt to obtain money or other benefits from the state of Illinois by knowingly using false identification or by lying about facts that would affect your eligibility, such as your:
- Place of residence
- Number of dependents
- Marital or family status
- Employment status
- Financial means
A violation of this section is a Class 4 felony punishable by 1 to 3 years in prison and possible fines of up to $25,000. When your misrepresentations allow you to collect more than $300, the offense becomes a Class 3 felony involving a prison sentence between 2 and 5 years.
When you misrepresent your status as a veteran or as a veteran’s dependent for the purpose of obtaining veteran’s benefits, the baseline offense is a Class 3 felony. When the violation involves more than $300 in benefits, the offense becomes a Class 2 felony carrying a prison sentence between 3 and 7 years and possible fines of up to $25,000.
Defrauding the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children
720 ILCS 5/17-6.3 creates specific penalties for people who attempt to defraud the Illinois Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Under this section, it’s illegal to knowingly use, acquire, or possess WIC food stamps or to participate in the program in a way that violates the rules of the Illinois Department of Public health or the Department of Human Services.
The penalties for violating this section depend on the amount of WIC benefits at issue in the case:
- Under $150–Class A misdemeanor involving a maximum sentence of 1 year in jail and $2,500 in fines. A second offense involving this amount is a Class 4 felony, carrying a sentence of 1 to 3 years and/or $25,000 in fines.
- Between $150 and $1,000–Class 4 felony. A second violation for this amount is a Class 3 felony punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison and possible fines of up to $25,000.
- Between $1,000 and $5,000–Class 3 felony. For your second violation of this section, you will face Class 2 felony charges involving a possible sentence of 3 to 7 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000.
- Between $5,000 and $10,000–Class 2 felony. A second violation for this amount is a Class 1 felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000.
- Over $10,000–Class 1 felony.
According to 720 ILCS 5/17-10.5, insurance fraud consists in knowingly obtaining or attempting to recover money or property from an insurance company by making a false claim. The penalty for this offense depends on the amount of money fraudulently obtained from the insurance company:
- $300 or less–Class A misdemeanor punishable by 1 year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines
- Between $300 and $10,000–Class 3 felony carrying a maximum penalty of 2 to 5 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000
- Between $10,000 and $100,000–Class 2 felony involving a prison sentence of 3 to 7 years and/or fines of up to $25,000
- Over $100,000 or 3 fraudulent claims within an 8 month period–Class 1 felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000
The related offense of health care benefits fraud involves deceptively obtaining benefits from a non-governmental health care provider. This offense carries a maximum sentence of 1 year in jail and/or fines of up to $2,500.
720 ILCS 5/17-3 defines forgery as knowingly making a false document or altering any document with the intent of defrauding another person. It is also illegal to distribute forged documents or to possess them with the intent of delivering them. The forged document over which you might be charged must be capable of deceiving another person.
Generally, forgery is a Class 3 felony carrying a maximum prison sentence of 2 to 5 years and possible fines of up to $25,000. But when the forgery involves a single Universal Price Code label, the offense is a Class 4 felony involving a possible sentence 1 to 3 years. Forging an academic degree is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by 1 year in jail and/or fines of up to $2,500.
According to 720 ILCS 5/16-30, you may be charged with identity theft if you knowingly use the personal identifying information or documents of another person with the intent to:
- Obtain credit, money, goods, services,
- Commit a felony
The penalties for this offense depend on the amount of money at stake in the case, and whether the alleged victim is a member of the armed forces:
- Class 4 felony–Less than $300
- Class 3 felony–A second offense involving less that $300, or a first offense for less than $300 defrauded from an active military service member, or an amount between $300 and $2,000
- Class 2 felony–A first offense involving between $2,000 and $10,000, a second offense involving between $300 and $2,000, a second offense against an active military service member involving less than $300, or a first offense involving between $300 and $2,000 defrauded from a military service member
- Class 1 felony–A first offense involving between $10,000 and $100,000, or between $2,000 and $10,000 taken from an active member of the armed forces
- Class X felony–A first offense involving the theft of over $100,000, or between $10,000 and $100,000 taken from an active military service member
The above penalties all increase when the alleged victim is over 60 years old when the offense becomes known as aggravated identity theft. It is also a crime to possess, sell, or manufacture a personal identifying document with the intent to commit a felony. That offense is a Class 3 felony.
According to 720 ILCS 5/17-50, you may face computer fraud charges if you knowingly:
- Access or cause to be accessed a computer or computer files with the intent of committing fraud. This is a class 4 felony punishable by 1 to 3 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
- Use, damage, or destroy a computer or delete computer files with the intent of defrauding someone. A class 3 felony, this offense carries a maximum penalty of 2 to 5 years in prison and fines of $25,000.
- Fraudulently access a computer and obtaining money as a result. When the amount of money obtained fraudulently exceeds 50,000 this offense is a Class 2 felony involving 4 to 15 years in prison and possible fines of up to $25,000. Otherwise, the offense is a Class 3 or 4 felony.
Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Person or a Person with a Disability
720 ILCS 5/17-56 makes it illegal to knowingly use intimidation of deceit to gain control over or to illegally dispose of the property of an elderly or disabled person. The penalties for this offense are as follows:
- Less than $300–Class 4 felony punishable by 1 to 3 years in prison and fines of up to $25,000
- Between $300 and $5,000–Class 3 felony carrying a 2 to 5-year prison sentence and a possible $25,000 fine
- Between $5,000 and $50,000–Class 2 felony involving a maximum sentence of 3 to 7 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines
- More than $50,000–Class 1 felony with a prison sentence of 4 to 15 years and/or fines of up to $25,000
Under Illinois law, an elderly person is anyone over 60 years old. Defrauding an elderly person is always a Class 1 felony when the case involves a victim over 70 and a theft of at least $15,000, or the victim is over 80 and loses over $5,000.
Social Security and Medicaid Fraud
According to 42 U.S.C. 1383, it’s a federal crime to knowingly attempt to increase your social security benefit payments by making a false statement or representation. If you violate this section, you can expect the federal government to seek restitution of the payments you received through fraud. Additionally, you will face heavy fines and the prospect of up to 5 years in federal prison.
Under 18 U.S.C. 1347, you may face federal charges if you knowingly defraud a health care benefit program, or even if you attempt to do so. The statute provides for prison terms as high as 10 years, and fines in the thousands of dollars. Facing charges in federal court is significantly more expensive than defending your case in state court.
How a Chicago Fraud and Forgery Lawyer Can Help
If you’re facing fraud and forgery charges, your finances, freedom, and reputation are all at stake. With so much on the line, you should seek out highly skilled legal representation. At O’Meara Law LLC, we are dedicated to vigorously defending our clients when they face the criminal justice system. For more information about how we can help, call us today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.