Criminal Fraud Vs. Civil Fraud: What’s the Difference?


Criminal fraud and civil fraud are distinguished primarily by who is seeking legal action in the case. Coolidge Law Firm is experienced in representing clients who have been accused of fraud, both criminal and civil. In this article, our criminal defense attorneys define both criminal fraud and civil fraud, point out the differences between the two, and look at possible defense.

What is Fraud?

Fraud is the purposeful misrepresentation of fact. For fraud to have occurred, it isn’t necessary for there to have been damages incurred by a victim.

Regardless of whether it is criminal or civil fraud, fraud has several legal elements, including:

  • Misrepresentation of a material fact
  • An individual lies or conceals a material truth
  • The misrepresentation was made purposefully, with the intent of fooling the victim
  • Knowledge on the part of the accused that they were misrepresenting the fact
  • The victim believed the misrepresentation and relied on it
  • The victim suffers, or could have suffered, based on their reliance of the misrepresentation

Criminal Fraud

Criminal fraud is a crime that involves a scheme to cheat or deceive another individual or entity in order to obtain a financial gain or a similar type of advantage. Criminal fraud is considered a “white collar crime.” Any action that is intended to deceive another through false representation of fact and results in detriment to the individual who relied on the information can be an act of criminal fraud.

If an individual intentionally lies about an important key fact in a transaction or relationship and another person or party relies on that misrepresentation to the point at which they suffer harm, then fraud has occurred. Fraud has not occurred when a party provides a fact that they believe is true, but are mistaken.

When a person is accused of criminal fraud, the case is brought by either local, state, or federal prosecutors. They have to prove that the defendant(s) intended to commit the misrepresentation and to gain from it. A criminal fraud case can be pursued even if the fraud was not successful and no one was actually harmed.

Types of Fraud

There are many types of fraud. Here are some common examples of criminal fraud:

Civil Fraud

Civil fraud claims, like criminal fraud, are primarily based on a fraudulent misrepresentation or inducement. In a civil fraud claim, the plaintiff pursues the case on their own. In order to prove civil fraud there must be damages that occurred as a result of the fraud. Regardless of how flagrant the misrepresentation has been, if the plaintiff either does not rely on it or there is no injury connected to it, then no relief is available in a civil action. Compensatory and punitive damages are potential remedies in a proven civil fraud case.

Difference Between Criminal Fraud and Civil Fraud

The goal of pursuing either a criminal fraud case or a civil fraud case is to get justice and to punish the perpetrator. The punishment that results from a guilty verdict differs greatly from criminal to civil fraud.

A criminal fraud case is pursued by prosecutors who have to prove that the wrongdoer intended to commit the misrepresentation and to gain from it. A civil fraud case is pursued by the person who has been defrauded.

In a case of criminal fraud, the accused faces the possibility of imprisonment or probation, in addition to paying fines and possibly making restitution to any victims who have been damaged. In a case of civil fraud, the punishment sought is generally recompense for the damage suffered by the victim.

If You Are Accused of Criminal Fraud

If you have been accused of criminal fraud, you are looking at serious consequences. The penalties for a criminal fraud conviction varies depending on:

  • The jurisdiction
  • The severity of the fraud
  • The person or entity that was a victim of the fraud
  • The amount of money or thing of value that was lost as a result of the fraud

Potential Defenses Against an Accusation of Criminal Fraud

An experienced attorney, like our team at Coolidge Law Firm, can assist you in presenting any defenses during a criminal trial. There are several defenses that may be available to a charge of criminal fraud, including:

Insufficient Evidence

Insufficient evidence means there is not enough direct evidence available to prove the defendant was the individual responsible for the fraudulent acts.

Lack of Intent to Commit a Crime

For the accused to be convicted of fraud, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to deceive another party. This can, sometimes, be difficult to prove. For example, an individual may accidentally use their friend’s insurance card, which is not fraud. But, if they did so on purpose, then it is fraud.

Non-Fraudulent Statements

Non-fraudulent statements may be made by accident. This is especially true if an individual believes they are true. Furthermore, not all false or deceptive statements are considered fraudulent. Statements of opinion are not considered criminally fraudulent. In order for a misleading statement to be fraudulent, it must be related to an existing fact. It can’t be based on a promise to complete a future action.


Entrapment is another possible defense to a criminal fraud charge. Entrapment occurs when either law enforcement or the government drives an innocent person to commit a crime they would not have committed otherwise. This may be difficult to prove in court because just being presented with an opportunity to commit a crime is not entrapment. Additionally, the government more than likely will argue against this defense and point to a reason the defendant intended to commit the crime anyway.

Contact Coolidge Law Firm in Raleigh If Accused of Fraud

If you have been charged with criminal fraud, you need an experienced attorney to assist in presenting any defenses during the trial. Our legal team at Coolidge Law Firm is knowledgeable and can successfully present the defense and argue against the evidence shown by the prosecution. We serve all of Wake County including Raleigh, Durham, Wake Forest, Garner, Cary, and surrounding areas. Call us at (919) 239-8448 or complete the contact form below.

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