False Pretenses Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of False Pretenses, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is False Pretenses?

n. Issuing untrue statements in order to fraudulently obtain money or property. For example: claiming that zircons are diamonds, or turning back a car’s odometer. It is considered a form of theft.

History and Meaning of False Pretenses

False pretenses is a legal term used to describe the act of intentionally making false or misleading statements or representations to obtain property, money, or any form of value from another person. In other words, it means using deceitful tactics to obtain something of value. This term has been in use for centuries and was first established in common law.

In the United States, this term is codified into law and is considered a serious criminal offense. False pretenses involves an intentional deception, which is made to a victim who then puts their trust in the information provided by the offender, thus leading to the transfer of money or property.

Examples of False Pretenses

There are numerous examples of false pretenses. One common example is when someone pretends to be a representative of a charitable organization and solicits donations from unsuspecting individuals. Other examples include someone pretending to be a contractor and taking a down payment for a job that they never intend to complete or someone selling counterfeit goods while claiming they are genuine.

A more detailed example would be a car salesman telling a customer that a used car has only been driven 10,000 miles, when in fact the car has been driven more than twice that amount. If the customer pays based on the false information, the salesman has committed false pretenses.

Legal Terms Similar to False Pretenses

Related legal terms include fraud, misrepresentation, embezzlement, and theft by deception. Fraud and misrepresentation are similar to false pretenses because they involve intentionally deceiving someone to obtain something of value. Embezzlement is similar in that it involves the unauthorized taking of property but does not require the element of deception. Finally, theft by deception is similar to false pretenses in that it involves intentionally deceiving someone to deprive them of their property or money.