To trace fraud back to its origins would be a nigh impossible task, as fraud has been around for as long as lying and deception, in some form or another. Legally defined fraud is a more modern invention, arising alongside more complex bureaucracies which, by their very nature, allow for the implementation of more and more intricately fraudulent acts.
In the modern world, fraud primarily refers to a lie or deception which is damaging in how it misrepresents a certain object, person, or set of facts.
Most cases of actual fraud deal with individuals who have some form of additional knowledge that the defrauded party does not, and who use that knowledge to take advantage of the defrauded party. The key elements to this understanding of fraud are that it is damaging, and that it misrepresents.
An act can be deceptive, and therefore seem fraudulent, without being damaging. For example, one person could lie about his date of birth to another. This act would be deceptive, but if this was simply a lie in casual conversation, and did not unduly damage the listener, or lead to any other substantive damage of any kind, then the lie could not be regarded as damaging.
As such, the lie would not be fraudulent. If, on the other hand, the liar in question gave a government institution a false date of birth, so as to qualify for a government benefit that he or she might not have otherwise qualified for, then that would indeed be damaging, as it would be a lie told in order to illegitimately be given money by the government. In that case, the lie would be considered a fraud.
This is connected to the idea of misrepresentation. An ad for a certain product might involve so-called deception in that the ad depicts the product in blatantly unrealistic circumstances, giving someone super powers such as super strength or the ability to fly, for example. This ad is employing such a lie in order to better appeal to the customer, likely through humor or flashy pictures.
The ad is also technically lying; the product in question most certainly will not give users such abilities. But in this case, the ad might not be considered fraudulent, as the ad’s misrepresentation of the product cannot be taken as a serious, legitimate misrepresentation by a reasonable adult. In almost all circumstances, an adult would be able to tell that the ad was not purporting to tell the truth, and as such, the ad might not be considered misrepresented fraud, for example.
If, on the other hand, the ad was instead for a product such as cleaning agent, and it claimed that using the product would decrease users’ chance of sickness by 75%, then, without actual supporting data to prove that claim, the ad might be considered fraudulent.
In this case, assuming that the product could not be proven to actually do as the ad claimed, the ad would be deceiving customers into believing that the product could legitimately do something that it cannot, and as such, the ad would likely be deemed as some form of fraud.
This, of course, only goes to show the difficulty of dealing with fraud with any consistent rules or regulations. There might be mitigating circumstances for a given fraudulent act, including that the act in question was simply a mistake on the part of the accused fraudster, or that the fraudulent act was, as in the above example, not made with intent to actually misrepresent.
Nonetheless, there are countless examples of actual fraud that crop up consistently in the modern world, and they pose a major problem for any number of important systems, both in the government and outside of it.