Legal Dictionary

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False Pretenses

The crime of False Pretenses is obtaining title and possession of another's property by misrepresenting a fact (knowingly making false representations) with the intent to defraud. The crime of False Pretenses is also known as Theft by False Pretenses or Larceny by False Pretenses.

The crime of False Pretenses requires:

  • a false representation
  • of a material fact (past or present)
  • with the intent to defraud
  • that causes the victim to pass possession and title of his or her property

In California, False Pretenses law is part of California Penal Code Sections 484 and 487. This crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value of the property. A theft of property valued at under $400 is commonly known as Petty Theft and is charged as a misdemeanor. Theft of property that has a value of over $400 is commonly known as Grand Theft and is generally charged as a felony.

An example of False Pretenses occurs when the defendant tells the victim that he will trade his expensive Rolex watch for the victim's sport's car. The victim agrees to the trade because he thinks that it is a fair deal and because the defendant has convinced (made false representations to) the victim that the Rolex watch is genuine and worth a lot of money. When the defendant obtains possession and ownership of the sport's car, he has committed the crime of False Pretenses.

Theft by False Pretenses is often confused with Larceny by Trick. These crimes are slightly different. The difference between the two crimes is that the thief who obtains possession and title of the property is guilty of Theft by False Pretenses and a thief who obtains possession of the property only is guilty of Larceny by Trick.