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In the broadest sense, a fraud is a deception made for personal gain. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and is also a civil law violation. Many hoaxes are fraudulent, although those not made for personal gain are not technically frauds. Defrauding people of money is presumably the most common type of fraud, but there have also been many fraudulent "discoveries" in art, archaeology, and science.
In criminal law, fraud is the crime or offense of deliberately deceiving another in order to damage them – usually, to obtain property or services unjustly.  Fraud can be accomplished through the aid of forged objects. In the criminal law of common law jurisdictions it may be called "theft by deception," "larceny by trick," "larceny by fraud and deception" or something similar.
Marriage Fraud can take several forms and is the act of entering a marriage for personal gain rather than a genuine desire to enter into a sincere marital relationship. Marriage Fraud is usually associated with obtaining immigration benefits. In the United States, marriage fraud for immigration purposes is punishable under INA §204(c)(1) and the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986. Possible criminal penalties include $250,000 and 5 years in prison as well as deportation and a permanent bar against receiving future immigration status. Marriage Fraud can be either unilateral or bilateral Unity and Immigration Policy in the United States. In a unilateral marriage fraud, only one party is aware of the fraud and the fraud is against both the immigration service as well as the other party. The innocent party may file a lawsuit and/or annulment of the marriage. In a bilateral fraud, both parties are aware of it and both parties are subject to criminal penalties.
In academia and science, fraud can refer to academic fraud – the falsifying of research findings which is a form of scientific misconduct – and in common use intellectual fraud signifies falsification of a position taken or implied by an author or speaker, within a book, controversy or debate, or an idea deceptively presented to hide known logical weaknesses. Journalistic fraud implies a similar notion, the falsification of journalistic findings.
Acts which may constitute criminal fraud include:
- Marriage Fraud to obtain immigration benefits INA §204(c)(1),
- 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
- bankruptcy fraud, is a US federal crime that can lead to criminal prosecution under the charge of theft of the goods or services
- investment frauds, such as Ponzi schemes
- 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 intentionally making a false representation of a material fact, with the intent to deceive, which is reasonably relied upon by another person to that person's detriment. A "false representation" can take many forms, such as:
- A false statement of fact, known to be false at the time it was made;
- A statement of fact with no reasonable basis to make that statement;
- A promise of future performance made with an intent, at the time the promise was made, not to perform as promised;
- A statement of opinion based on a false statement of fact;
- A statement of opinion that the maker knows to be false; or
- An expression of opinion that is false, made by one claiming or implying to have special knowledge of the subject matter of the opinion. "Special knowledge" in this case means knowledge or information superior to that possessed by the other party, and to which the other party did not have equal access.
In the UK a report concluded that the total costs of fraud and dealing with fraud in the year 2005-2006 was at least 13.9 Billion GBP.
- Fred Cohen. Frauds, Spies, and Lies - and How to Defeat Them. ISBN 1-878109-36-7 (2006). ASP Press.
- Podgor, Ellen S. Criminal Fraud, (1999) Vol, 48, No. 4 American Law Review 1Review Fraud - Alex Copola
- The Nature, Extent and Economic Impact of Fraud in the UK. "Feb,2007", http://www.acpo.police.uk/asp/policies/Data/Fraud%20in%20the%20UK.pdf).