Fraud is the use of deception to steal from others. Sometimes, a fraud is not discovered until months or years after it has been committed. Thousands of Americans fall victim to fraud every year, sometimes losing money or valuables for good. There are many different types of fraud – insurance fraud, unemployment benefit fraud, consumer fraud, and identity fraud. The common factor in these crimes is the use of falsified or blatantly made-up information to lure a victim or group of victims into giving away their money, personal information, or services.
Consumer fraud is defined in N.J.S.A. 56:8-2 as “any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false promise, or misrepresentation” committed by a salesperson while promoting the sale of any material goods, services, or real estate properties. Consumer fraud can be committed during transactions that aren’t strictly sales as well – property rentals and the distribution of goods are also subject to consumer fraud laws.
There are three ways consumer fraud can be committed:
1. Affirmative Misrepresentation.
This is an untrue statement used to make a sale. Whether the defendant knew his or her statement was true or false is irrelevant to his or her defense. Note how this act differs from the traditional definition of fraud: the defendant does now have to have intentionally misled his or her victim or victims for the action to be considered consumer fraud. If any false statement was used in an attempt to sell a piece of property, a service, or an item, the defendant may be charged with consumer fraud through affirmative misrepresentation.
2. Knowing Omission
This is lying by omission. If the defendant knowingly concealed, omitted, or suppressed any important information about the good, service or property he or she was offering for sale before or during its transaction, he or she is guilty of consumer fraud through knowing omission.
3. Violation of Certain Laws
This is when the seller breaks any other existing New Jersey laws regarding the transaction of goods, services or real estate when attempting to make a sale. An example of this would be promoting a specific food as vegan, even though it contains non-vegan ingredients. There are many specific laws written about sales in New Jersey.
The victim must prove that he or she suffered a quantifiable loss as a result of consumer fraud to be able to file a claim. Any person convicted of consumer fraud must pay back three times the amount of money his or her victim lost in damages. This is called restitution. Restitution exists to help victims of theft and fraud recover money they lost as a result of the crime. N.J.S.A. 2C:44-2(b) discusses restitution in New Jersey, such as how the court may set up a payment plan for a guilty defendant and how the amount of money he or she must pay is decided.
Consumer fraud may be committed in any medium through which sales are made. This means through word of mouth, in-store promotions, and through sales websites such as ebay.com and craigslist.org. For more detailed information about computer-related fraud laws in New Jersey, see our page about computer fraud. As computers become more and more integrated into our everyday lives, computer-based crimes become more prevalent.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs is a government office that works to enforce consumer fraud laws in New Jersey. Its jurisdiction includes lemon law enforcement, automobile leasing laws in New Jersey, Halal and Kosher food regulation, cyberfraud, warehousing, charities, home improvement contractors, identity theft prevention and enforcement of the Do Not Call list for telemarketers. It also exists to resolve disputes within the realm of consumer law, oversees legal gambling within New Jersey, ensures that commercial weight and measurement devices operated by the state are correctly calibrated and maintained, and supervises many boards and committees that in turn govern the businesses that operate within New Jersey. These boards and committees play a large role in licensing more than half a million New Jersey workers.
If you have been accused of consumer fraud and want to start building a strong defense, call Ron Bar-Nadav at 201-525-1555. His years of experience in criminal law will be one of your greatest assets when it comes time to collaborate on your defense.