Fraud is a serious criminal offence and one that has been on the increase in recent times according to figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).
When it comes to fraud-related offences, the law can be confusing as there are a number of different charges – all of which apply in different situations and have different penalties.
One of the most common fraud charges in NSW is brought under section 192E of the Crimes Act. Fraud charges of this nature are often dealt with in the local or district court, and come with a maximum penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment in the local court or 10 years’ imprisonment in the district court.
Fraudulent conduct can be treated as a federal offence if the person or entity being defrauded is a Commonwealth organisation, or it can be a summary or indictable offence if it is committed against an individual or other organisation.
Recent cases of fraud in NSW
In a recent case, a Sydney Ferries boss was convicted of fraud after he spent over $200,000 on cars, home renovations and holidays.
Geoff Smith was a chief executive at Sydney Ferries and had been issued with a work credit card in 2006.
Although he had signed a document stating that he would only use the credit card for work-related purchases, he fraudulently used it for a number of personal expenses over a period of three years.
The fraud was discovered after an independent investigation by the ICAC, which revealed that he had been defrauding Sydney Ferries between 2006 and 2009.
As a result of the fraud he was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, and given a hefty fine.
In another recent case, a real estate agent was sentenced to 18 months in prison for trust account fraud.
Louise Sultana, the director of BLM Enterprises, was found to have fraudulently converted over $208,000 from her company’s sales trust account and used it for her own benefit.
She also took $55,000 from the rental trust account and failed to lodge a further $66,000 in rental bond funds.
NSW Fair Trading discovered the fraud after she failed to lodge an audit for the period ending in June 2011.
In a similar case, another real estate agent was sentenced to a 14-month suspended sentence after he was convicted of eight counts of trust account fraud.
What should I do if I’m facing fraud charges?
If you have been charged with fraud, or you suspect that you are being investigated by authorities, the first thing to do is to find a criminal defence lawyer who has experience in fraud-related cases.
As the law surrounding fraud charges is complicated, legal advice is essential so that you understand what charges you are facing, and if you choose to defend yourself against them, you can have the best chance of success.
Your strongest defence will depend on the exact nature of the charges against you, and the circumstances surrounding your case.
A good criminal lawyer can help you prepare the best defence and help ensure that you get the best possible outcome.
Will I go to jail if I’m convicted of fraud?
Although jail sentences are common for fraud offences, if you plead guilty to fraud charges, you won’t necessarily have to go to prison.
There are a number of different factors that the judge will take into consideration when determining a sentence.
Many people who are charged with fraud avoid a jail sentence, and some avoid conviction altogether through getting their charges dropped or thrown out of court with the assistance of a strong lawyer, or if they wish to plead guilty by obtaining a section 10 dismissal or conditional release order.
Some of the factors that will be taken into consideration if you wish to plead guilty to fraud charges and are being sentenced include the amount of money that was taken, whether the alleged crime took place over a long period of time, or was an isolated incident, and how much was paid back.
Your personal circumstances will also be taken into consideration, and your motivation for committing the offence can be a deciding factor.
In the examples above, the second real estate agent avoided a custodial sentence largely due to the fact that he confessed to the crime early.
Other factors including your character, previous criminal history and any mitigating factors that might have been going on at the time of the alleged fraud will also be taken into consideration, and could lead the judge or magistrate to look more leniently on your case.
If you are facing charges of obtaining a financial advantage or fraud, it’s important that you seek experienced legal advice as soon as possible to increase the chance of beating the charge or, if you wish to plead guilty, of reducing the number and severity of the charges and reducing the risk of a heavy penalty.