Criminal and Civil Fraud Charges in Victoria
In Victoria, fraud charges and offences are legislated under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) and the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic). The Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) also legislates federal offences in relation to Centrelink fraud.
Less serious fraud charges are known as summary offences. Summary offences are dealt with in the Magistrates Court and can carry a maximum penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment. More serious indictable offences are heard in the County Court and carry a maximum penalty of more than 2 years imprisonment.
If you have been charged or are under investigation for a fraud offence, please contact Sher Criminal Lawyers immediately. Our team of defence experts specialises in fraud matters and is here to help you. We have years of experience advising and representing clients before the Magistrates and County Courts of Victoria. Our lawyers are available 24/7 and offer free consultations by way of Zoom, Facetime or in person at our Melbourne and Moorabbin offices.
Obtaining Property or Financial Advantage by Deception
In regard to fraud offences in Victoria, the term ‘deception’ is given a specific definition under s81(4) of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). Deception includes words or conduct that:
- Is deliberate or reckless;
- Pertains to matters of fact or law; and
- Is false or deceitful.
It is an indictable offence in Victoria to obtain property by deception (s81 Crimes Act 1958). This charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
To prove the property was obtained by deception, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused:
- Took ownership, control or possession of property belonging to someone else;
- Did so intending to permanently deprive the owner of the property; and
- Engaged in deception; and
- Knew they were acting dishonestly.
Similarly, it is an indictable offence to obtain financial advantage by deception (s82 Crimes Act 1958). This charge also carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. The term financial advantage has been broadly interpreted under Victorian law and can pertain to a monetary advantage or anything that improves the financial situation of the accused (or an associated party).
To prove a financial advantage was obtained by deception, the prosecution must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused:
- Obtained financial advantage for themselves or another person;
- Engaged in deception; and
- Knew they were acting dishonestly.
Many acts might amount to obtaining property or financial advantage by deception. Some examples include:
- Making illegitimate insurance claims.
- Issuing illegitimate refunds to steal money from an employer.
- Using a stolen credit card to make purchases.
- Managing a pyramid scheme.
If you are charged with obtaining property or financial advantage by deception, it is important to have an experienced criminal lawyer assess your legal options. Depending on the evidence and circumstances, there may be some reasonable doubt as to whether the accused acted knowingly, dishonestly, deceitfully, intentionally or otherwise. The accused cannot be held criminally liable for the charge if all elements of the offence cannot be proven by the prosecution.
The Court Procedure for Fraud Charges in Victoria
If you have been charged or are under investigation for potentially committing fraud, it is important to understand your legal rights and options. This area of law is highly complex and there are many things you must consider before giving an interview or attending court.
Our specialist team at Sher Criminal Lawyers is extensively experienced in all kinds of fraud matters and can advise and represent you in the Magistrates Court, the County Court or in a Centrelink interview. If you need help, please contact us immediately. One of our experienced criminal lawyers will expertly guide your fraud case through every stage of proceedings, from the first interview to the finalisation of the matter.
Just because a person has been overpaid does not necessarily mean that Centrelink will choose to pursue a criminal prosecution. People frequently fail to:
- Correctly declare their income to Centrelink; and/or
- Update Centrelink about changes that might affect their payment.
In many cases, Centrelink chooses to raise a debt. This means that you must pay back the amount that you have been overpaid. Centrelink will notify you of a debt by mail or myGov message. You will have 28 days to pay the debt, set up a payment arrangement or dispute the debt. If you fail to start repaying money by the due date, Centrelink may start charging you interest, refer your debt to a collection agent or issue a Departure Prohibition Order (preventing you from leaving Australia until the debt is paid).
However, if Centrelink believes that you have committed fraud, they may choose to pursue criminal charges under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). Many factors are taken into consideration before a decision to criminally prosecute is made. The amount overpaid and the circumstances surrounding the overpayment are two considerable factors assessed by Centrelink. If you have been overpaid a substantial amount and Centrelink believes you intentionally and knowingly engaged in conduct to gain financial advantage, criminal prosecution will likely be pursued.
The accused will likely be given the opportunity to participate in a taped interview with Centrelink before a matter is referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP). This interview is not compulsory, but it provides the accused with a chance to share their side of the story. It is important that you seek expert legal advice from a criminal lawyer before deciding to attend or not attend the Centrelink interview. Anything you say or admit may be used against you in court proceedings.
After the interview and investigation are completed, Centrelink will refer your matter to the CDPP if it is believed that you have acted fraudulently. The CDPP is independent of Centrelink. It is the CDDP’s role to further assess whether criminal charges should be laid. If there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and the matter is in the public interest, criminal charges will likely be laid.
If you have been charged with a summary offence related to fraud, your matter will be heard and finalised in the Magistrates Court of Victoria. Summary matters may involve several complex stages of case preparation and court procedure, including:
- Police Questioning and Interviews
- Filing of Charges
- First Mention Hearing
- Summary Case Conference
- Contest Mention
- Contested Hearing
If you plead guilty to summary charges, your matter may be heard and finalised in one day. However, if you plead not guilty, the prosecution must prove each element of the relevant offence beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutions failure to do so will result in you being found not guilty of that charge.
If you have been charged with an indictable offence related to fraud, your matter might start in the Magistrates Court, but it will likely be finalised in the County Court. Indictable matters may involve several complex stages of case preparation and court procedure, including:
- Police Interview
- Committal Proceedings
- Plea Hearing
- Pre-trial Disclosure
- Directions Hearing
- Sentencing Hearing
Indictable cases can be heard summarily in the Magistrates Court under certain circumstances. If a charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 or fewer years imprisonment, it can be heard summarily with the defendant’s consent and the Magistrate’s approval. It is also possible for experienced criminal lawyers to negotiate lesser fraud charges with the prosecution, which may result in the matter being heard in the Magistrates Court.
If you plead not guilty, the prosecution must prove each element of the relevant offence beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutions failure to do so will result in the defendants being found not guilty of that charge.
Things to Consider When Charged with Fraud in Victoria
Different fraud offences require different elements to be proven. If all of the elements for a particular offence cannot be proven by the prosecution, the accused cannot be held legally liable for committing that offence. This is why it is important to seek the help of a criminal lawyer who specialises in fraud charges. Each case is unique and needs to be assessed on its circumstances and evidence.
If you have been charged with any offence related to fraud, please contact Sher Criminal Lawyers immediately. We work alongside forensic experts and distinguished barristers to achieve the best possible outcome in fraud matters. Our expert lawyers specialise in defending fraud charges and have years of experience presenting cases before the Magistrates and County Courts of Victoria.
Things for the Accused to Consider
Our specialist team at Sher Criminal Lawyers can answer your questions and provide you with expert advice and representation in your fraud matter. We will explain your legal options to you by answering important questions such as:
- Should I cooperate with a police or Centrelink interview?
- Does the prosecution have enough evidence to prove my fraud charge?
- Do I have a valid explanation for what happened?
- Is the monetary amount a consideration in fraud cases?
- Is there a legal defence I can rely on in my matter?
- How will the circumstances of the offence affect my matter?
- What is the likely result if I plead guilty or not guilty?
- Is it possible to have my charges negotiated to a lesser offence?
Things that the Court Must Consider
If your matter is taken to Court, the Magistrate or Judge will have to consider a wide range of factors that might prove you to be guilty or not guilty. In all fraud matters, our experienced team at Sher Criminal Lawyers prepares the best possible defence case by considering factors such as:
- The reason and circumstances behind why you potentially committed an offence;
- Forensic examination of the evidence;
- Any claim of right you may have to the money or property;
- Your intent and honest beliefs at the time;
- Your specific actions in relation to the offence;
- Any other elements of the offence noted in relevant legislation.
Penalties for Fraud Charges in Victoria
The Victorian Courts take fraud charges seriously. The majority of fraud related charges are considered indictable offences. These charges are heard in the County Court, with the most serious fraud offences carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.
Only a few offences related to fraud are considered summary offences and heard in the Magistrates Court. Summary charges can carry a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment.
The specific penalty for an offence is stipulated in the relevant legislation. The value of one penalty unit in Victoria is around $165.
Common penalties in relation to fraud charges include:
- A Community Corrections Order
- A Good Behaviour Bond (Adjourned Undertaking)
- A fine
- A criminal conviction
What to Do If You Are Charged With Fraud in Victoria
If you have been charged or are under investigation for a fraud offence, please contact Sher Criminal Lawyers immediately. We are here to help you achieve the best possible outcome in your matter.
Our team of specialist lawyers is extensively experienced in fraud matters. We frequently advise and represent clients in all kinds of fraud offence cases before the Magistrates and County Courts of Victoria.
We are available 24/7 and offer free consultations by way of Zoom, Facetime or in person at our Melbourne and Moorabbin offices.