Theft by deception in Pennsylvania essentially refers to a scam, otherwise known as a failure to correct a false impression or statement. If someone intentionally lies to obtain or withhold property that doesn’t belong to them, this would count as theft by deception.

So if a ‘seller’ on Facebook lists an ad for a fictional sofa and asks for the money upfront, they would be committing a crime in Pennsylvania. Another example would be if a car owner fudges the odometer in order to sell the vehicle for more money. We’ll look at the details and how a defense attorney would build a case if their client has been charged with theft.

How Does Pennsylvania Define Theft by Deception?

State law lists the following guidelines regarding theft by deception:

  • Intentionally withholding information that would affect a person’s decision about a transaction or preventing them from acquiring information that would help them make a decision, such as, for instance, omitting a major defect in an appliance during the sale.
  • Giving someone a false impression about the law, state of mind, or value behind the transaction, such as, for instance, a private car owner saying that they lost the title somewhere in their home when really the vehicle was stolen off the street.
  • Failing to correct an impression that was previously created, such as, for example, allowing a person to repeat false information without stepping in to clarify.

There is a lot of nuance when it comes to theft by deception, because it can be difficult to ascertain whether a person knew about something or whether they legitimately were unaware. For instance, can it be shown that someone knew that a car’s engine was going to quit right after selling, or was it merely a coincidence? Each case will be judged by its own merits to determine whether someone should reasonably have known the relevant information.

 Are There Exceptions to Theft by Deception?

Yes. If someone has lied about matters that don’t have any bearing on the financials of the transaction, this would not count as theft by deception. The same is true if a person has made exaggerated statements that a reasonable person would conflate with the truth (e.g., saying that an item is worth $1 trillion in jest before clarifying its real price).

Is Theft by Deception a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

It depends on the value of the property in question. The penalties for theft range in terms of both official labels and consequences:

  • It’s a third degree felony if the deception totaled $2,000 or more worth of goods or services.
  • It’s a first degree misdemeanor if the deception totaled between $200–$2,000.
  • It’s a second degree misdemeanor if the deception totaled between $50–$200.
  • It’s a third degree misdemeanor if the deception totaled less than $50.

The amount calculated is based on the total taken. For instance, let’s say that a person receives $10 donations from 100 people after falsely saying they had cancer and asking for money for treatment. While they may have only taken $10 from each person, the total amounted to $1,000.

Theft by Deception Defense 

If a person has been charged for having previously created or reinforced a false impression or for having omitted critical information about a sale, the right defense in Pennsylvania can help. The charges for theft by deception can be quite severe. Even a charge for less than $50 can land you with up to $2,500 in fines and a year in prison. The third degree felony can bring about even worse consequences, including up to a $15,000 fine and seven years in prison.

There can be a lot of misunderstandings in this world, especially when it comes to exchanging goods and services. Poor communication is not the same thing as deception though. If you’ve been charged with this offense, it’s important to know how it can affect you and your future endeavors. A future employer might be hesitant to hire you if they believe you’re not trustworthy, or you may not be able to qualify for certain programs or benefits (depending on the severity of the charge).

The right criminal defense lawyer will be able to structure your case based on the evidence. In order to absolve you of a Pennsylvania theft conviction, they’ll review and investigate to build an argument that works in your favor. This may include proving that:

  • The property owner misunderstood what you had to say.
  • There was no intention to mislead another person.
  • There was a clear agreement that the property would be returned.
  • The property was intentionally given to you.

So let’s say that a friend gives you a computer that they’re no longer using. They make it clear they’re giving it to you because your computer broke, and they want you to have a replacement. However, there’s no legally binding agreement that you are required to keep the computer in order to receive the gift.

If you pawn the computer and your friend tries to charge you with theft by deception out of anger, this would not count as a crime in Pennsylvania. As you can see, though, these situations can become very complicated, particularly if there was no documentation when certain transactions took place.

A complex defense will set out to show everything from the relationship between you and the other party to the extenuating circumstances that evolved from a single miscommunication. It takes time to build these arguments, so it helps to have the assistance of a skilled legal professional on your side.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation

Theft by deception isn’t always a cut-and-dried matter, which is why we’re here to get to the heart of what really happened. If you’re interested in learning more about the best defense for you, we’re ready to take your call. Finding someone who specializes in the right practice areas can make all the difference in your case, so you don’t end up with an undeserved charge on your record.