Bruce Engel of Engel and Associates, criminal lawyers in Ottawa, defines and explains the crimes of fraud and false pretences.
To commit fraud means to deprive somebody of something by deceit or a falsehood and to induce a state of mind through a specific course of action. Fraud uses deception to deprive people of things that should be theirs; theft means simply taking something from someone. In the classic example of theft, you have a jar of pennies in your possession and you put it down and go to the washroom. While you’re in the washroom, I take the jar and run away. That’s theft. If I hit you over the head with a hammer and take it, that’s robbery–theft with violence. To get the jar by fraud, I might ask you to give me that jar of pennies and let me invest it, and I tell you that you’ll earn 10% per month. Then I take the pennies and don’t do what I promised, because I never intended to. I just wanted the jar of pennies. I deprived you of the jar of pennies by deception; that’s fraud.
False pretense is a representation either by words or a document that a person knows to be false and that is made with the fraudulent intent to induce that person to act upon it. A simple example is a bad cheque. Some email scams in which people make claims in order to get your bank information would be other examples. There’s a proliferation today of white-collar crime or fraud that results from people’s reliance on the Internet. The Internet gives criminals unlimited targets for crime. In order to transact business, we freely give credit card information over the internet.
Sometimes these crimes can be viewed as a breach of trust when crimes are committed by those we expect to be able to trust. The courts treat cases of breach of trust very seriously. It’s considered to be a serious aggravating factor and the courts can and do apply jail sentences. We’ve seen that, for violent offences and sexual offences, people in positions of trust get higher sentences than those that aren’t. Financial advisers who were there to look after and care for people’s retirements are now being viewed as not only fraudulent but also in breach of trust. Perhaps the classic breach of trust example from the United States is Bernie Madoff. His jail sentence was extreme because people and charities placed so much trust in him.
If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with criminal law issues in the Ottawa, Ontario Region, contact Engel and Associates.