What is fraud?
Fraud is both a civil and a criminal offence, defined as deception or dishonesty which causes financial loss to another party. Fraud can be committed in a number of ways, such as when someone:
- Makes a false representation for their own gain or to cause a loss, or a risk of loss, to another party. Examples are falsifying details on a mortgage application, or to obtain a credit card.
- Fails to disclose information which they are legally bound to disclose, for their own gain or to cause a loss, or a risk of loss, to another party.
- Abuses their responsibility to safeguard another person or party’s financial interests for their own gain or to cause a loss, or a risk of loss, to another party.
- Has something in their possession or control which is used for or connected with fraud.
- Adapts, supplies or offers to supply anything used for or intended to be used for committing fraud.
- Knowingly participates in a business which intends to commit fraud.
However, only some of these kinds of fraud come under the Fraud Act in the UK, while others are covered by different laws. All such fraud offences require an element of intent with regards to the conduct and its consequences.
What is the difference between civil and criminal fraud?
Cases of fraud will be dealt with via civil or criminal proceedings dependent on whether the victim chooses to bring private action, or if the prosecuting authorities initiate criminal court proceedings. Much will also depend on the level of dishonesty and how intentional the conduct and foreseeable consequences were.
Victims of fraud may choose to pursue a civil case because if they are successful, the defendant can be ordered to repay the sum which was taken, or to pay damages. In criminal proceedings, the defendant may still be required to pay compensation to the victim if found guilty, and may also receive a prison sentence, or an unlimited fine in certain circumstances
Another difference between criminal and civil fraud cases is the evidence required. As in all civil proceedings, the victim must only prove that the defendant is guilty ‘on the balance of probabilities’. In the criminal court, it must be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ or so the court is sure. More specifically to fraud, in civil cases the victim must show that they suffered actual loss or damages. In a criminal case, the prosecutor just needs to prove that there was an intent to commit fraud.
At Lawtons, our team of criminal defence solicitors provide expert legal advice to those charged with or accused of criminal fraud.
What is the Fraud Act, and which offences come under it?
The Fraud Act 2006 distinguishes fraud from theft and other related crimes. The types of fraud which are covered by the Fraud Act are:
- Fraud by false representation
- Fraud by abuse of position
- Fraud by failure to disclose information when legally required
Other kinds of fraud offences may come under different laws in the UK, including the Theft Act, the Computer Misuse Act, the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act and the Proceeds of Crime Act.
To show that fraud has been committed, the prosecution must prove that there is evidence of dishonest conduct, and an intention to make a gain or cause a loss or risk of loss, whether or not this outcome was actually reached. You can also be charged with conspiracy to defraud if you had an agreement with at least one other person concerning an intent to commit fraud.
What is the possible sentence for fraud?
Criminal fraud cases can be heard in either the magistrates’ or the Crown Court, and the potential sentences will vary depending on the nature of the specific offence. The court will likely consider the level of deception involved, and the value of the money or assets defrauded.
Very serious cases of fraud, such as high-value foreign lottery or bogus charity scams, are most likely to receive the longest prison sentences. Banking, insurance or credit fraud offences and benefit fraud may also result in imprisonment. The amount of time will depend on various factors, such as the amount of money involved or whether there was an abuse of position of trust for example, with the maximum penalty only given for the most advanced, long-lasting and high-value deceptions.
However, in many cases of fraud which involve lesser sums, the defendant’s intention to defraud may be less clear. Often, the defence strategy will involve establishing doubt that their client fully intended to commit the fraud, and arguing that any false representations were made in error for example.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with fraud?
The most important step to take as quickly as possible following an accusation of fraud is to seek legal representation. Fraud offences can be serious and carry long prison sentences, so there is a lot at stake and it is essential to give yourself the best chance of a successful outcome.
You should listen carefully to the advice of your defence solicitor and use their expertise to guide you. Every case will be different, but some of the advice they may give you could include:
- Don’t admit guilt to the police, and don’t speak to them at all without the presence of your legal representation.
- Present all evidence you may have to your solicitor so that they have all the information and can investigate and construct a case based on the facts.
- If police ask to conduct any searches of your home or workplace, do not allow them to until you have contacted your solicitor and have ensured that they have a valid warrant.
Lawtons solicitors will work with you to ensure you are fairly represented and that the best outcome is achieved in accordance with the facts of the case. For more information on legal proceedings surrounding fraud charges or to discuss an individual case in complete confidence, please do not hesitate to contact us.