Defining a few terms
The word “scam” is usually defined as “a swindle or fraud.” “Scamming” is “a cheat or swindle; as in a confidence game.” In other words, a “scam” is an act of misrepresentation with the intent to take a person’s money or goods. The best term for the perpetrator of a scam is “scam artist,” even though there is nothing “artistic” about stealing other people’s money. Another term frequently used is “con artist.”
The word “fraud” is commonly used to mean the same thing as a scam. However, in legal terminology as used by federal and state courts, “fraud” has a precise definition that requires proving between nine and 12 separate elements. “Misrepresentation” is another legal term also defined by the courts and laws. The legal definition of “stealing” or “theft” refers to the intent to permanently deprive a person of their property. It is a crime in most states to engage in “theft by false pretenses.” Very often, scams fall within the definition of “theft by false pretenses” since a person is deprived of his or her property without force or threat. A scam victim usually is not aware he is being scammed. Misplaced trust and confidence combined with a lack of knowledge or awareness lead the victim to voluntarily part with his or her property.
All of the scams outlined in this Blog series are illegal. The scam artists who take the money or valuable property of others without their informed permission or knowledge are criminals. The losses are real and often tragic especially when the victims are the old or helpless. If caught, scam artists may face criminal charges and civil lawsuits. The U.S. system of laws is complex and is divided into two main categories: criminal and civil. Criminal laws are passed by state and federal legislatures and enforced by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. If you violate a criminal law you can be sent to jail or pay a fine or other penalty. Civil laws are those that govern transactions between individuals or between individual and the state. A law may prohibit certain fraudulent activities and provide for both criminal and civil remedies. For example, if a state law required telemarketing companies to be registered before conducting business and a company violated that law, then the state could bring criminal charges against the owners of the business. The law could also allow anyone injured by such a company to sue for damages in the courts (a civil case).
Every state and the federal government consider some sort of fraud to be a crime. Moreover, many states have laws making scams and frauds against incapacitated people or vulnerable people a more serious offense. An incapacitated person is one who, either through physical or mental disability, is unable to provide adequately for himself or herself. Although there are levels of incapacity, generally an incapacitated person needs a conservator or guardian. Conservators or guardians are appointed by the court to administer an incapacitated person’s financial affairs (a conservator) or physically take care of person (a guardian).
If you feel that you have been scammed or defrauded is important for you to discuss your rights and possible course of action with a competent legal adviser, such as a law enforcement officer or an attorney.