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Fraud Offences Articles

What happens for a first offence of Obtaining Property by Deception?

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Obtaining property by deception is a serious theft offence that the courts in England and Wales take very seriously, not least because of the impacts that such an offence has on the public’s sense of safety in their homes and businesses. If you or someone you care about has been charged with this offence, you are undoubtedly concerned about the impacts such a conviction could have on your personal and professional life. In this article, we outline the offence of obtaining property by deception under English criminal law, give some examples of how the offence may play out in practice, and answer some of the most common questions that first-time offenders may have.

What is the offence of obtaining property by deception?

The offence of obtaining property by deception falls under Section 15 of the Theft Act 1968.

Section 15 states:

“A person who by any deception dishonestly obtains property belonging to another, with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it, shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.”

In simple terms, this means that if an individual uses deception to dishonestly acquire someone else’s property with the intent of keeping it permanently, they can be charged with this offence. The maximum penalty for this offence is imprisonment for up to ten years upon conviction.

In this context, the word “deception” refers to any false representation or misleading conduct that leads to the acquisition of property. This could involve fraudulent actions, false statements, or any other form of dishonesty intended to obtain property that does not belong to the offender.

To secure a conviction, the prosecution needs to prove:

  • Dishonesty – the defendant must have known that their actions were dishonest by the standards of ordinary reasonable people.
  • Deception – the prosecution needs to demonstrate that the defendant used deception, which includes making false representations or engaging in misleading conduct.
  • Property belonging to another – the property that was obtained must have belonged to another person (which includes an entity).
  • Intent to permanently deprive – the defendant must have had no intention of returning the property to the owner.
  • Causation – it should be shown that without the deceptive actions of the defendant, the property would not have been transferred to them.
  • Knowledge – the defendant knew or believed that their actions were dishonest.

The prosecution must prove all these elements beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction. If any of these elements is not proven, it could result in acquittal of the defendant.

What are some examples of obtaining property by deception?

Examples of this offence include:

  • Conning someone into purchasing a fake product by misrepresenting it as genuine.
  • Obtaining money by posing as a charity worker and falsely claiming to collect donations for a legitimate cause.
  • Using a false identity to secure a loan and disappearing without repaying it.
  • Tricking an individual into transferring ownership of their valuable possessions through fraudulent means.
  • Running a Ponzi scheme where investors are deceived into thinking they are making legitimate investments, while their funds are actually used to pay earlier investors.
  • Selling a property by falsely inflating its value and deceiving the buyer about its condition.

What happens if you are suspected of obtaining property by deception in the UK?

If you are suspected of obtaining property by deception, you can expect to undergo the following:

  • Investigation – the police will investigate the allegations made against you. This may involve gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and examining any relevant documents or records.
  • Arrest – if the evidence suggests that you may have committed the offence, you may be arrested. You will be informed of your rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to legal representation.
  • Questioning you may be questioned by the police about the allegations. Ensure you have legal representation to guide you on which questions to answer and which to stay silent on.
  • Release or detention – depending on the circumstances and the seriousness of the alleged offence, you may be released on bail with conditions, such as reporting to a police station at specified times. You may also be released under investigation if the police need more time to gather evidence. In more severe cases, you may be held in police custody until a court appearance.
  • Charging – after the investigation is complete, the police will pass the evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS will decide whether there is enough evidence to charge you with the offence.
  • Court proceedings – if you are charged, you will be summoned to appear in court. At this point, you will be formally informed of the charges against you. You will have the opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
  • Trial – if you plead not guilty, a trial will be scheduled. The prosecution will present its case, and your defence team will have the opportunity to challenge the evidence and present your side of the story. The court will make a decision based on the evidence presented.
  • Verdict – if you are found guilty, the court will determine the appropriate sentence, which could include imprisonment, fines, community service, or other penalties. If you are found not guilty, you will be acquitted and not face any penalties for the alleged offence.

Remember that every case is unique and the specific procedures may vary depending on the circumstances of your particular case. If you are suspected of obtaining property by deception, it is crucial to seek legal advice as soon as possible so you know your rights are protected.

What is the sentence for obtaining property by deception in the UK?

The sentence for obtaining property by deception depends on the specific circumstances of the case, including the amount of property involved and the defendant’s previous criminal record. However, the maximum penalty for this offence, as outlined in Section 15 of the Theft Act 1968, is imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

Sentencing in the UK takes into account various factors, including the seriousness of the offence, the impact on the victim, and the defendant’s level of culpability. Judges have the discretion to impose sentences ranging from fines to community service to custodial sentences, depending on the individual case.

For less serious cases, where the value of the property obtained is relatively low and there are no aggravating factors, a defendant might receive a non-custodial sentence, such as a fine or a community order. In more serious cases, especially those involving large sums of money or a pattern of deception, a custodial sentence, which could include imprisonment, is more likely.

Are there any defences to obtaining property by deception?

There are a few potential defences to a charge of obtaining property by deception:

  • Lack of intent to deceive – if the defendant can show they did not intend to deceive the victim when obtaining their property, this could be a defence. They would need to demonstrate there was an honest misunderstanding or mistake.
  • Value of property obtained – in some cases, if the value of the property obtained is small, the charges may be reduced or dropped, as the crime may be considered less serious and not in the public interest to prosecute.
  • Consent of victim – if the victim consented to give over the property, even if there was deception involved, it may provide a defence in some cases. Note, however, that consent obtained by deception may be invalid.
  • Lack of reliance – if the victim did not actually rely on the deception when giving over the property, or would have given the property anyway, it could weaken the case. The prosecution typically needs to show the victim relied on the false statements.
  • Free speech/puffery defences – in some limited cases, exaggerations and “puffery” in negotiations or representations may be permissible and protected speech rather than criminal deception. However, there are limits to this defence and you should consult a solicitor before mentioning this defence to anyone (such as the police) if you think it applies to you.

Any defence relies heavily on evidence and on skilful articulation of the legal points. Having an experienced criminal defence solicitor on your side ensures you have a robust foundation for your defence.

Will I go to prison if it is my first time committing obtaining property by deception?

Whether a first-time offender will go to prison for obtaining property by deception depends on factors like the seriousness of the case and the judge’s discretion during sentencing.

Less serious cases with smaller amounts involved may result in non-custodial sentences like fines or community service. However, for more severe cases or those with aggravating factors, imprisonment becomes more likely.

Where to get further help

Facing any criminal charge is difficult, and if you are a first-time offender (or are being charged for the first-time), it is understandable that you should be worried about what comes next. The team at Stuart Miller Solicitors have decades of combined experience in this space and will be happy to walk you through all potential outcomes of your specific case. Contact us today for a free consultation about your options.

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