What Is a False Report?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A false report is an intentionally untrue statement about something that occurred or about one or more people to authorities like officers of the peace, social workers, or others with recognized authority. Though this varies by region, generating a false report is often a misdemeanor. Criminal charges can certainly occur if the reporter’s deceit is discovered. Some people are also civilly liable if they make a false report that causes mental distress or actionable damage to others.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Legal definitions of the term "false" should be understood. Saying something that is untrue or false can just be an accident. For instance, misidentifying someone as the driver in a moving violation is unfortunate, but it’s not a willful attempt at misrepresentation. Even expressing something believed true does not qualify as the more damaging definition of false. Reporting a burglar’s presence in the home, only to discover it was the neighbor’s Labrador, is simply a mistake.

The more serious legal meaning of a false report is tied to intention. Legal falsity in reporting may mean purposeful, malicious attempts to persuade authorities of something that is untrue. It speaks to a person’s willingness to subvert the law on his own behalf or to maliciously injure someone else.

Given slight differences in jurisdictions, the definition of a false report, and to whom it might be made, can vary. Generally, a prosecutor makes a case by first proving the accused made the report. It must also be established that the defendant deliberately presented information he knew to be false. Further, the prosecutor has to show evidence that the defendant’s report was made to some type of authority.

Since many people aren’t prosecuted, the idea of making a false report isn’t always treated with due gravity. If a criminal charge doesn’t occur, a civil trial can still follow, and it should not be underestimated. Civil proceedings are slightly more relaxed, and not all jurors have to be persuaded, which may give advantage to the person suing for damages.

If a false report creates financial damage for others, any person making it might pay for it for a long time. A report that results in the criminal accusation of someone else, for example, could cost someone months of pay, an occupation, or ownership of a home. It might take years to restore a person's reputation. These damages add up quickly, and they could financially destroy the person who made the false report.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I remember one of my former neighbors got charged with filing a false report after she called the police on her ex-boyfriend. She originally claimed he came over to her apartment and started attacking her with a baseball bat. She had some visible injuries, and her story made a little sense. The ex-boyfriend did have anger management problems, and he was a convicted felon. The police took him into custody based on her report.

A week later, the investigating detective discovered that the man had been in jail in another city on the night in question, so he couldn't have possibly attacked her. She confessed that another man had actually assaulted her, but she didn't want to press criminal charges against him. She named the ex-boyfriend instead. She was charged with false reporting to law enforcement and filing a false report of domestic violence.


When I was in the restaurant business, I had to deal with disgruntled customers filing false reports to the health department from time to time. Someone would claim they saw an employee do something very unsanitary and then handle food, or they would claim to have gotten food poisoning after eating at my restaurant. I knew these reports were false, but I had no choice but to allow the health inspector to conduct his own investigation.

All of these reports turned out to be false, but sometimes just the accusation is enough to drive away business. One time someone made a false report claiming that one of my cooks had AIDS, and I had to take out an ad in the paper to assure people the report was completely untrue.

Post your comments
Forgot password?