Verified 07 February 2023 - Directorate of Legal and Administrative Information (Prime Minister), Ministry of Justice
Abuse of weakness is the abuse of a person by taking advantage of their ignorance or its physical or mental weakness. For example, signing a document that is not suited to the person's needs or handing over a large sum of money that has serious consequences for their property. If you're a victim, you can complain to convict the perpetrator and receive damages. We will explain the facts that are being suppressed and tell you what steps are being taken.
Weakness is abused when someone takes advantage of the vulnerability or to cause it to do something that is contrary to its interests.
The offender has knowledge of the state of weakness and ignorance of his victim.
Vulnerability may be due to age, illness, physical or mental disability.
The victim may be, for example, a minor, an elderly or disabled person, or a pregnant woman.
The perpetrator may also exert severe and repeated pressure to manipulate the victim in such a way as to distort his judgment.
Examples of abuse of weakness
Abuse of weakness can take a variety of forms:
- Door-to-door sales or telephone sales when the person is taking advantage of the person's vulnerability. The same applies to transactions carried out in places not suitable for sale (parking, hotel, etc.).
- Sale at too low or unnecessary price, such as the subscription of an internet subscription by a person who does not have a computer
- Transactions concluded in the emergency when the victim did not have time to have a quote (for example, lock, car or heating breakdown)
- Psychological pressure exerted on a person under the influence of a cult, sectarian movements or even a third party (a neighbor, a friend, a family member, etc.). Such pressure must lead it to do something that is contrary to its interests.
- Large and unusual remittances (transfers, checks, payment by credit card, bank withdrawals) made by particularly vulnerable persons. The same is true of unwarranted proxies (most often bank proxies).
- Not doing anything (for example, being induced not to refuse a loss-making estate).
Difference from breach of trust
Abuse of weakness should not be equated with breach of trust.
- In breach of trust, the perpetrator misappropriates the property or funds of the victim who placed his trust in him.
- In the abuse of weakness, the perpetrator takes advantage of the person's vulnerability to lead him or her to do or refrain from doing an act that may be harmful to him or her.
The victim does not measure the scope of his commitment and ignores the consequences of his actions. She is unable to cope with the pressure because of her fragility.
This weakness may result from any of the following:
- Age. For example, the elderly person who does not measure the financial consequences of his employment or the minor who takes out a contract without having the legal capacity
- Physical or intellectual disability (physical or mental disability, illness)
- Sustained or momentary depression, economic situation, psychological state, isolation, separation,...
- Lack of knowledge of the language, which can for example lead to a lack of knowledge of the value of money
- Low education
If you are a victim, you have several options:
- Either obtain the amicable resolution of the contract.
- Or, if the amicable procedure does not succeed, obtain from the judge the judicial resolution of the contract and any damages.
- Either file a criminal complaint. This can result in the criminal conviction of the perpetrator and compensation for your damage.
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Amicable settlement of the contract
The contract can be canceled for defect of consent.
You can request the cancelation of a home sale for abuse of weakness.
Your cancelation request can be made on free paper by following a template:
You address your request to the professional concerned.
If you request the cancelation of the act, you must to adduce evidence abuse of weakness by any means. For example, a medical certificate could be issued indicating your vulnerability and lack of judgment at the time of engagement.
You can request the cancelation of the fraudulent contract and the return of the sums of money that have been taken from you. You can also claim damages to compensate you for your damage.
If a fraudulent document was signed by the victim in a two-year period before a judgment for placing under judicial protection (guardianship, guardianship, etc.), this act may be reduced or annulled.
If you're a victim, you have 5 years to request the nullity of the contested act.
In the event of the death of the victim, the action may be initiated by his heirs, under certain conditions.
If you are a minor victim, on 5 years from the date of your majority.
If you are a protected major, the prescription of 5 years from judgment pronouncing the measure of guardianship or curatorship.
Judicial termination of the contract
You can to bring proceedings before the court of justice to request the judicial resolution of the contract (possibly signed).
You can also ask for damages.
You must prove that the abuse committed by the perpetrator and its consequences are intentional and that he knows your vulnerability.
You must file a complaint with the court by subpoena or by request.
the rules of procedure must be respected in order for the matter to be properly referred to the court. The case may not be heard if the court has not been properly seized.
File a complaint
On the spot
You must go to a police station or the gendarmerie of your choice.
Who shall I contact
The police or gendarmerie services are obliged to register the complaint.
The complaint is then forwarded to the public prosecutor for a decision on further action (investigation, closure without further action...).
If you don't know the perpetrator, you can fill out an online pre-complaint before traveling.
You will then get an appointment and the police or gendarmes will already have the elements of your complaint upon your arrival.
You can file a complaint with the public prosecutor.
We need to send a free-form letter the court of law of the place of the offense or of the domicile of the offender.
Who shall I contact
The letter should specify the following:
- Your marital status and full contact information (address and telephone number)
- Detailed account of the facts, date and place of the offense
- Name of the alleged perpetrator if known (otherwise, the complaint will be filed against X)
- Names and addresses of any witnesses to the offense
- Description and provisional or definitive estimate of the damage
- Evidence: medical certificates, work stoppages, miscellaneous invoices, findings ...
- Willingness to take civil action
Who shall I contact
You can send your complaint by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt, by simple letter or by letter followed.
You can also file your complaint directly at the courthouse.
In any case, a receipt is given to you as soon as the Public Prosecutor's Office has registered your complaint.
If you are a victim, you or your representative may seek compensation for your harm. To do this, you must set up civil party at the time of filing a complaint or during the proceedings, until the hearing.
You can request one or more of the following repairs:
- Amount of the price of the property or money diverted
- Damages for the deprivation of the object and for non-material damage
- Amount to cover the costs incurred for the trial.
If you are a civil party, you must quantify your claims.
Abuse of weakness may be punished by 3 years in prison and a fine of €375,000. This penalty may be accompanied by a ban on practicing if the offense took place in the course of a professional activity.
If the abuse of weakness is not demonstrated, the facts can be characterized as a deceptive marketing practice. This can be punished by 2 years in prison and a fine of €300,000.
When the abuse of weakness is committed by the head of a sectarian association, the penalties are 5 years in prison and €750,000 of fine.
When the abuse of weakness is committed by members of a sectarian association in organized band, the penalties incurred shall be increased to 7 years of prison and €1 000 000 of fine.
The accomplice of an abuse of weakness risks the same penalty as the perpetrator.
Who can help me?
Find who can answer your questions in your region
- Penal Code: Articles 223-15-2 to 223-15-4Fraudulent abuse of ignorance or weakness
- Code of Criminal Procedure: article 15-3Complaint
- Code of Criminal Procedure: article 8Limitation period
- Code of Criminal Procedure: article 9 (1)Limitation period
- Civil Code: Article 414-1General provision on the validity of an act
- Civil Code: Article 464Regularity of the acts of protected persons
- Civil Code: Articles 901 to 911Ability to dispose of or receive by gift between living persons or by will.
- Civil Code: Article 2224Limitation period in civil matters
- Civil Code: Articles 1145 to 1152Postponement of the limitation period (Article 1152)
- Consumer Code: Articles L121-8 to L121-10Prohibited commercial practices
- Consumer Code: Article L122-8Deceptive marketing practices
- Consumer Code: Article L132-13Civil sanctions
- Consumer Code: Articles L132-14 to L132-15Criminal sanctions
- Consumer Code: Articles L132-17 to L132-18Criminal sanctions