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Falsely Reporting a Stolen Vehicle to Police: The Charges You Face


Falsely Reporting a Stolen Vehicle to Police: The Charges You Face

Reporting your car as stolen when it hasn’t actually been taken is never a good idea. Not only is it unethical, it can lead to serious criminal charges. Let’s take a look at what the law says about falsely reporting a stolen vehicle, the penalties you may face, and some of the common motivations behind insurance fraud.

Is It Illegal to Lie About Your Car Being Stolen?

In most states, it is a crime to knowingly make a false report of a vehicle theft to the police or your insurance company. For example, in California it is illegal under Vehicle Code 10501 VC to make a false report of a stolen vehicle, with the intent to deceive, either to a peace officer or to the vehicle theft investigator for an insurance company.

This law makes it a misdemeanor to falsely claim your car is stolen when you know it has not actually been taken without your consent. It also makes it illegal to file a false vehicle theft report electronically, in writing, in person, or by phone. The crime may be charged as a felony if the person has a previous conviction under this statute.

Other states have similar laws against filing false police reports about stolen vehicles. For instance, in Florida it is a first degree misdemeanor under F.S. 817.49 to knowingly give false information to law enforcement relating to a supposed vehicle theft.

Some states may also charge defendants with additional crimes like insurance fraud or attempting to obtain property by false pretenses if the person files an insurance claim related to the made-up theft.

What are the Penalties for Falsely Reporting a Stolen Car?

Since falsely reporting a vehicle theft is generally a misdemeanor, potential penalties may include:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • Fines up to $1,000
  • Probation

However, if the false report is charged as a felony due to a prior conviction, or if additional charges like insurance fraud are filed, potential penalties can increase to:

  • Over 1 year in state prison
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • Felony probation

Defendants may also face civil liability if the insurance company or law enforcement agencies incur costs related to the false report. And your insurance rates will likely go up significantly if your insurer discovers you lied about having a stolen vehicle.

Why Would Someone Falsely Report a Stolen Car?

There are a few common motivations for falsely claiming your vehicle was stolen:

  • To file an insurance claim – Insurance fraud costs companies billions per year. Some people report their cars stolen hoping to collect insurance money when the vehicle is actually hidden away somewhere.
  • To cover up an accident – If you wreck your car, reporting it stolen may seem easier than admitting fault for the damage, especially if you don’t have comprehensive coverage.
  • To hide financial issues – People deep in car loan debt who can no longer afford payments may try reporting their vehicle stolen to make the lender take the loss.
  • To conceal illegal activity – Those who use their car to commit crimes may claim it was stolen to avoid linking themselves to the vehicle after the fact.
  • Mental health issues – In some rare cases, false reports relate to mental illness or emotional disturbances rather than criminal intent.

Of course, there is never a good reason to make a false police report. But understanding why some commit insurance fraud can make the crime more relatable. Desperate people sometimes make poor choices, and a momentary lapse of judgment can lead to felony charges.

What Should You Do if Your Car is Really Stolen?

If you find your vehicle has actually been stolen, here are the proper steps to take:

    • Report it to the police immediately – Provide them with all relevant information about your car, where it was parked, any potential witnesses, etc.
    • Notify your insurance company – Give them your police report case number and any other details needed to open a claim.
    • Ask neighbors/businesses for surveillance footage – Any video showing the theft in progress will help the investigation.
    • List all stolen items – Don’t forget to mention any personal property that was in the vehicle.
    • Change the locks if your keys were stolen – Prevent the thief from accessing your home, office, or other vehicles.
  • Watch out for fraudulent charges – Alert your credit card company and bank to flag any suspicious transactions.
  • Follow up frequently – Check in with the police and your insurer regularly for updates on the case.
  • Try not to panic – Take comfort in the fact that most stolen vehicles are eventually recovered.

The most important thing is to promptly report a legitimate theft to the authorities and your insurance provider. This will get the investigative process started quickly while the trail is still fresh.

What is the Defense Against False Vehicle Theft Charges?

Since falsely reporting a stolen vehicle is generally a specific intent crime, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. You made a report of vehicle theft,
  2. The report was false – your car was not actually stolen, and
  3. You knew the report was false when you made it.

This means a good defense will focus on disproving one of these elements. Potential defense strategies include:

  • You had a reasonable but mistaken belief your car was stolen – For example, someone borrowed your car without permission and you honestly thought it was stolen when reporting it.
  • The report was ambiguous, but not necessarily false – If your language was vague without directly alleging theft, you may be able to argue there was no direct lie.
  • You did not intend to deceive – If your mental state was impaired or you were under duress, you may not have had the specific intent required for conviction.
  • You retracted the report immediately – Some states recognize retracting a false report as a defense or mitigating factor, though others do not.
  • The report was coerced – If someone else pressured you into filing the false report, your attorney can argue you did not act with criminal intent.
  • You have an otherwise clean record – No prior convictions for false reporting or insurance fraud may help with sentencing and penalties if convicted.

While falsely reporting a stolen vehicle is illegal, an experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed by highlighting deficiencies in the prosecutor’s case. Consulting an attorney is essential if you are under investigation or facing charges.

Takeaways on Falsely Reporting Car Theft

  • It is a crime in most states to knowingly file a false vehicle theft report with police or insurers.
  • Penalties range from fines and probation to over a year in prison if charged as a felony.
  • Common motivations include insurance fraud, covering up accidents, and hiding financial issues.
  • Legitimate thefts should be reported immediately to law enforcement and your insurance provider.
  • Potential defenses include lack of intent, mistaken belief of theft, retraction of the report, coercion, and having no criminal record.

The bottom line is falsely reporting a stolen vehicle is never a wise idea and can lead to criminal charges. But if you find yourself accused, don’t panic – an experienced lawyer may be able to defend against the allegations if the circumstances were ambiguous or complicated. Think carefully before filing any police report and only report legitimate crimes.


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