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I recently bought a house which required getting oil service started for it. The oil company I called (which had already been servicing the house previously) insisted on inspecting the oil tank first. The man who came told me that the tank was unsound and had to be replaced and refused to deliver oil to me unless I replaced the tank. Replacing that type of tank would cost about $2500.

I had already had a specialist inspect the heating system when I bought the house, so I knew what he was telling me was false and designed to trick a naive homeowner into unnecessarily buying a new oil tank.

Is something like this just a shady business practice or does it cross the line into criminal fraud?

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It isn't fraud because you didn't believe the lie and act on it. It might be attempted fraud, or a violation of the relevant code of professional practice. Those vary from state to state. It is likely that there is a licensing board for firms offering to do such work, or consumer protection agency in your state or locality, to which you could report this action. They would know exactly what crime, if any such a false statement constitutes. They might also be able to take action to revoke the relevant license, although probably only if there is a pattern of such violations.

Had you replaced the tank and later discovered the lie, you could sue for fraud. But since you wern't harmed in fact, you have no damages to sue for.

  • So, you are talking about suing. So, you see this as a purely civil matter, not criminal? The question asks specifically for the boundary where fraud becomes criminal. – Cicero Nov 22 '18 at 16:55
  • @Cicero: The answer is trying to tell you, without all of the elements (including your relying on the false statement), it generally isn't even fraud. It might be some other crime, but that depends on local law and almost certainly the specifics of your case, at which point the question is dangerously close to a request for specific legal advice. – cHao Nov 22 '18 at 19:12
  • @Cicero: I did not say this was not a crime. i said it was not fraud, but might be attempted fraud or another crime. That will vary by state and details will matter. Since fraud is often handled as a civil matter even when it is technically criminal, I also mentioned suit, which in this case could NOT be done, because it seems that no damage occurred. – David Siegel Nov 23 '18 at 18:25

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