In the broadest sense, a fraud is a deception made for personal gain, although it has a more specific legal meaning, the exact details varying between jurisdictions. Many hoaxes are fraudulent, although those not made for personal gain are not best described in this way. Not all frauds are hoaxes - electoral fraud , for example. Fraud permeates many areas of life, including art, archaelogogy and science. In the broad legal sense a fraud is any crime or civil wrong for gain that utilises some deception practiced on the victim as its principal method.

In criminal law, fraud is the crime or offense of deliberately deceiving another in order to damage them -- usually, to obtain property or services from him unjustly. Fraud can be accomplished through the aid of forged objects. In criminal law it is called "theft by deception." Fraud can be committed through many methods, including mail, wire, phone, and the Internet.

Acts which may constitute criminal fraud include:

  • bait and switch
  • confidence tricks such as the 419 fraud, Spanish Prisoner, and the shell game
  • false advertising
  • identity theft
  • false billing
  • forgery of documents or signatures
  • taking money which is under your control, but not yours (embezzlement)
  • health fraud, selling of products of spurious use, such as quack medicines
  • creation of false companies or "long firms"
  • false insurance claims
  • pious frauds
  • securities frauds such as pump and dump

Fraud, in addition to being a criminal act, is also a type of civil law violation known as a tort . A tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy. A civil fraud typically involves the act of making a false representation of a fact susceptible of actual knowledge which is relied upon by another person, to that person's detriment.

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