Generally speaking, at what point it becomes illegal to be pretending that you're a Microsoft tech support (or better yet a random tech support not affiliated with any well known company) OR pretend to be a Nigerian Prince?

Is it at some point while going through the script, for instance being granted access to the target's machine, or is it at the point where they receive money from the target?

Assume either jurisdiction.

4 Answers 4


Ethically? As soon as you have the intent to deceive. Legally, you would start being liable as soon as a person relies on your statement as fact. Whether you could be held criminally responsible would depend on other factors, certainly unauthorized access or exchange of funds would be easier to prove to a jury.

  • In what jurisdiction is reliance alone enough for liability to attach?
    – bdb484
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 23:26
  • Criminal liability may attach without reliance by the victim, but would require wilful or at least negligent falsehood. Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 4:41
  • It sounds like a willful falsehood is pretty well established by the question.
    – bdb484
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 16:27

At the moment when a person makes any false statement with the intent that it be believed by the other party, and that the liar benefit or the other party suffer harm because of this belief, the person has committed attempted fraud. If the lie is in fact believed, and harm does result, actual fraud has been committed.

Fraud is both a crime and a tort (private wrong). Often authorities choose to leave it to a civil suit by the victim rather than start a criminal prosecution. But that is a matter of policy or choice by the authorities, who may choose to prosecute any instance of fraud if they see fit.

Such a situation may involve other crimes as well. For example, in the US, if the false statement is transmitted electronically, it is probably wire fraud, 18 U.S. Code § 1343 - Fraud by wire, radio, or television provides that:

Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If the violation occurs in relation to, or involving any benefit authorized, transported, transmitted, transferred, disbursed, or paid in connection with, a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency (as those terms are defined in section 102 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122)), or affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

Under that law merely transmitting the false statement as part of a "scheme" breaks the law.

  • So it's attempted fraud as soon as he says "I am from Microsoft Tech Support", right?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 12:24
  • @gnasher729 3 Yes, if he intends that as the start of a scheme to dishonestly get money or another benefit out of the victim. It is probably wire fraud at the same moment. Of course it is easier to prove when the scheme is closer to complete. Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 16:03

Liability for an offense exists once all the elements of the crime have occurred, but liability for an attempted offense attaches -- in most of the United States -- once you have the specific intent to commit an offense and take a "substantial step" toward committing the offense.

In the case of a fraud to be executed by phone, you would take a step maybe just by picking up the phone, probably just by dialing your target, and definitely by misidentifying yourself.


I would say the moment someone makes a false representation for the purposes of commiting fraud, then he has attempted to commit fraud by false representation. Once the actual fraud has been perpetrated then he is guilty of fraud by false representation.

Being granted access to the target's machine or receiving money from the target are not necessary elements of attempted fraud by false representation, which is also a criminal offence. However for an actual fraud to be carried out then I believe a material gain would have to be made.

Simply being granted access to the target's machine would not be a material gain but receiving money from the target would be. However if the perpetrator does manage to obtain access to the target's machine by making a false representation, then he may have committed a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 even if he was granted express authorisation to access it.

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