Any illegal act that involves the use of deception to obtain money or other property from a financial institution, or from a bank’s depositors, is often categorized as bank fraud. Like other fraud offenses, bank fraud involves the use of a “scheme or artifice” to obtain something of value. The criminal offense of bank fraud differs from bank robbery because, while they might both involve stealing from a bank, bank fraud does not necessarily involve violence or threats of violence.
What Is Bank Fraud?
Federal law provides a very broad definition of bank fraud. It covers any “scheme or artifice” intended to “defraud a financial institution,” or the use of deceptive means to obtain something of value that a financial institution owns or controls. A conviction under the federal statute can result in up to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $1 million, or a combination of the two. The term “financial institution” is defined by federal law to include banks and credit unions that are federally insured, such as by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Federal Reserve banks, mortgage lending businesses, and certain other institutions that accept deposits of money and other assets.
State laws vary considerably in how they classify offenses that federal law would consider bank fraud. In New York, for example, a wide range of “fraud” offenses, such as issuing a bad check, could fit within the category.
Bank fraud can target a financial institution or depositors of such an institution. Other offenses, such as money laundering, may make use of a financial institution as part of a broader criminal scheme.
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