Fraud has long been recognised as a criminal offence, and according to figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research’s latest quarterly crime report, released in December, fraud has increased by 20.7 per cent over the past two years.
There are many activities that can come under the definition of fraud.
The unauthorised use of credit and debit cards is one of the biggest fraud activities, and there are a number of others, ranging from identity theft to the creation and use of false and forged documents.
Forgery and false documentation are dealt with as separate offences, depending on whether the alleged offence involves a Commonwealth entity, or a private individual or organisation.
What does the prosecution have to prove in Commonwealth cases of forged documents?
In order to successfully convict someone for using a forged document, the prosecution has to prove that the defendant knowingly used a false document with the intention of deceiving a Commonwealth entity or another entity connected with a Commonwealth entity.
The prosecution also needs to be able to prove that this was done with the intention of dishonestly obtaining a financial gain, causing a loss or influencing the process of a public duty or function.
Using a forged document as an offence can be used in circumstances where:
A person uses a false document to deceive a Commonwealth official.
A person uses a false document online or on a computer or other device to make the device respond as if the document was genuine in connection with the operations of a Commonwealth entity.
A person uses a false Commonwealth document to deceive another person and dishonestly obtain a financial gain.
Some examples of Commonwealth entities include Medicare and Centrelink, and being charged with attempting to defraud either by using a forged document both online or in person constitutes a Commonwealth offence.
The offence of using a forged document comes with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
If you are under investigation by the Commonwealth for fraud or using a forged document, it’s important that you seek experienced legal advice as soon as possible.
What if the forged document is not used against a Commonwealth entity?
Although very similar, forgery matters not involving Commonwealth entities are dealt with under the offence of using a ‘false’ document, which falls under Section 254 of the NSW Crimes Act.
If you are charged with this offence, you are likely to appear in the local or district court, rather than in the supreme court.
This offence comes under amendments made to the Crimes Act in 2010, which were created in a move to more effectively prosecute offenders who are alleged to have committed forgery and fraud offences after the repeal of the offence of using a “false instrument”.
The offence of using a false document is similar in many ways to the Commonwealth offence and also comes with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. If you have been charged with using a false document, the prosecution will need to prove that:
- You were aware that the document was false.
- You were deliberately and knowingly using the document or intended to use it to dishonestly obtain a financial advantage, gain another person’s property, cause someone a disadvantage, or influence the exercise of public duty.
False document offences cover not only using a false document, but also making a false document or knowingly possessing one with the intention of using it. Under these amendments, it is also an offence to have the materials and equipment for making false documents in your possession.
What exactly is a ‘false’ document?
According to Section 250 of the Crimes Act, a false document is one that purports to have been made or altered:
- By someone who didn’t make it.
- On the authority of someone who didn’t authorise it.
- On a date or in a place where it wasn’t made.
- In terms which it wasn’t actually made in.
If you are found in possession of a false document or in possession of machinery or equipment for making false documents, you could find yourself facing up to ten years in prison.
False document and forgery offences are penalised harshly to act as a deterrent to others, and the severity of the penalties reflect current community standards and attitudes to these types of offences.
Forgery and false document offences come with harsh penalties, and if you have been charged with fraud or forgery, it is important to seek legal advice immediately, even if you intend to plead guilty.
A lawyer with experience in successfully defending forgery and fraud charges can help you present the strongest possible case, and improve your chances of getting a positive outcome and avoiding long-term imprisonment.