Let's say a hotel chain or a restaurant provides a 50% discount to anyone aged over 70. Would it be legal (as in, no criminal charges could arise from that action) for a patron to lie to the hotel/restaurant about their age to get the discount?

Question is restricted to US law.

  • 8
    Defrauding an innkeeper is a serious crime in many US states. – Michael Hampton Apr 4 at 3:47
  • 10
    Obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception? There's a fancy word for that. – Richard Apr 4 at 17:30

It is basically fraud, and there are two ways in which it could be illegal: it might be a crime, and you might get sued for doing it (you would not be fined or imprisoned, but you may have to compensate the hotel chain for their loss). Whether or not it is a crime depends on the jurisdiction. In Washington, there are very many laws against fraud such as RCW 9.38 (credit), RCW 9.45 (numerous things where a business defrauds others), RCW 9.60 (forgery) but none of them would apply to lying about a material fact to a business in order to get a discount. Texas likewise has a long section on criminal fraud. It is not clear from the wording whether a customer lying to a business (not involving forgery, vehicles, credit, or financial institutions) is covered. 32.42(b)(10) says

A person commits an offense if in the course of business he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence commits one or more of the following deceptive business practices... making a materially false or misleading statement of fact concerning the reason for, existence of, or amount of a price or price reduction

The question of interpretation that this raises is whether a person who has said "I'm over 70" so that they can get a discount has made a statement "concerning the reason for a price reduction". The ordinary interpretation of "concerning the reason for" would be that it refers to explaining why or under what conditions a price reduction exists. For the moment, I am skeptical that this definition would include the case at hand, but that will require a search through case law and jury instructions.

From the lawsuit angle, you would have knowingly made a false material statement in order to obtain a value, which is illegal, and they could sue you to recover the discount.

  • 2
    You're wrong about Texas. A hotel or restaurant would be providing a service, and 32.42(b)(10) covers exactly the case of lying about circumstances in order to obtain a price reduction. (There are no requirements on who is engaged in "business", which includes buying services.) – chrylis Apr 3 at 22:57
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    I feel like the intent of 32.42(b)(10) is pretty clearly to make it illegal to advertise fraudulent sales (e.g. saying something is 20% off when it never was for sale at the higher price) rather than obtaining discounts through fraud, but whether a creative prosecutor couldn't charge you under that or a more general fraud statue, I cannot say. – Zach Lipton Apr 4 at 0:52
  • @ZachLipton It technically meets the criteria, which is more scrupulous than lots of prosecutors need. – chrylis Apr 4 at 3:12
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    @chrylis I think the key phrase that makes this slightly unclear is "business practices." However, the section does explicitly define "business" as "includes trade and commerce and advertising, selling, and buying service or property" (emphasis mine). So it would seem to cover the act of purchasing a good or service, which suggests strongly a customer making a purchase would also be subject to it. – jpmc26 Apr 5 at 7:03
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    Why does the word "basically" appear in the first sentence above, i.e. why doesn't it just say "It is fraud,..."? – Michael Hardy Apr 5 at 11:31

If the business is charging you less than they would have if you'd told the truth, then they are losing money because you lied to them. You are obtaining something of value at the business's expense under false pretenses, and thus are committing fraud. It's difficult to find a specific criminal statute violated, because most of these cases are civil matters. But in Virginia for example, a liberal reading of §18.2-188 may apply.

It shall be unlawful for any person, with intent to cheat or defraud, to obtain credit at a hotel, motel, campground, boardinghouse, restaurant, eating house or amusement park for food, entertainment or accommodation through any misrepresentation or false statement.

Unless you've racked up $thousands in discounts, the chance of criminal charges is pretty low, but nonzero. Either way, misrepresentation is grounds for terminating the contract allowing you to stay, eat, or whatever. At the very least, you may get a very unfriendly wake-up call and/or some help leaving the establishment. :P

(All this is assuming you succeed, of course. If they don't buy it, then you might be better off.)

Aside from that, the business didn't just take your word for it that you're 70, because it knew some schmuck would lie about their age to get half off. So you almost certainly had to present an ID. If the ID is fake, that is often a crime in itself.

  • Regarding "If the business is charging you less than they would have if you'd told the truth, then they are losing money because you lied to them," an interesting thought experiment is the case where they're not actually losing anything of value and you wouldn't have paid the higher price at all. For example if they offered you a license key for software. Here the business made more money by virtue of your deceiving them to get the discount, rather than losing money. – R.. Apr 5 at 17:39
  • @R..: Irrelevant. If the price is $X, then by serving you, they are entitled to a payment of $X. Anything less costs them money. If you don't want to pay $X, your options are to negotiate in good faith beforehand or do business with someone who will charge less. Lying isn't on the list. – cHao Apr 5 at 18:25
  • I think the topic is more interesting from a legal standpoint than "irrelevant", and how it might be ruled could vary widely by jurisdiction and by interpretation. – R.. Apr 5 at 18:55
  • @R..: The reasons for declaring it fraud might differ, as might the civil/criminal decision, because there are a bunch of ways to attack the question. But that was not the question asked. Every jurisdiction would agree the act is not in accordance with the law, because they will refuse to allow dishonesty as a valid tactic. – cHao Apr 5 at 19:23

Fraud must be proved by showing that the defendant's actions involved five separate elements: (1) a false statement of a material fact,(2) knowledge on the part of the defendant that the statement is untrue, (3) intent on the part of the defendant to deceive the alleged victim, (4) justifiable reliance by the alleged victim on the statement, and (5) injury to the alleged victim as a result.


So if you claim to be over 70 when you're not, that's a false statement. Presumably, you know it's false, and the very fact of claiming it shows an intent to deceive. Where things get fuzzy is "material fact", "justifiable reliance", and "injury". If the hotel's discount doesn't bring the price below their marginal cost for the room, then arguably they are not harmed. One could counter that they are being harmed in that they could have gotten more, but that is stretching the meaning of "harm", and the defendant could argue that were it not for the discount, they would have gone to another hotel and the hotel would have gotten nothing.

As for a lawsuit, simply filing the case will probably cost more than the discount, let alone legal fees.

So, all in all, while you theoretically could be charged and/or sued, and there are arguments that would support a conviction, in reality it would be rather unlikely to face such consequences, and you would have viable defenses if you were.

protected by feetwet Apr 4 at 19:54

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