Fraud and Stealing: The subtle differences
In Western Australia, stealing is defined as fraudulently taking anything capable of being stolen or fraudulently converting it to a person’s own use or to the use of any other person.
Fraud, on the other hand, is defined broadly as any person who, with intent to defraud, by deceit or any fraudulent means, gains a benefit (pecuniary or otherwise), or alternatively causes a detriment to any person (pecuniary or otherwise).
There is some overlap between the meaning of stealing and the meaning of fraud. Both concern the deprivation of property from another person and also require a specific intent to do so.
The distinctions between fraud and stealing can be subtle. However, the distinctions are recognisable upon consideration of the factual circumstances of the offending. The differences between stealing and fraud occur in the process in which the victim’s property is deprived. Stealing requires the taking or moving of another’s property. Fraud requires an intent to gain a benefit by deceit or any other fraudulent or dishonest means.
Stealing requires a specific intent to permanently deprive a person of their property and also requires a physical movement of the property without the knowledge, permission or consent of the owner.
Some of the most common examples of stealing include: shoplifting, stealing from an employer, and stealing a motor vehicle.
Fraud requires an intent to defraud, by deceit or fraudulent means, to gain a benefit or alternatively to cause a detriment to any person (pecuniary or otherwise). The deceit may be verbal, digital or written misrepresentations causing the deprivation of the property.
The actions involving fraud are often hidden or obscured so that when the crime is committed it can remain undetected for a period of time. Frequently a person committing fraud won’t come into direct contact with the victim.
Fraud is not only committed by a ‘person’ it can also be committed by a group, a public body, a company, a corporation or an organisation.
Examples of Fraud are wide in range and include:
- Tax Fraud
- Investment Fraud
- Fraudulent insurance claims
- Credit Card Fraud
Recent Case in Western Australia
A 71-year-old Western Australian man has been charged with 47 stealing offences this month. The accountant has been accused by Police of massive investment fraud. Police allege that the man swindled people of money they had trusted to him for investing and also allege that offences relate to almost $19 million.
Western Australian Police began an investigation earlier this year after people reported concerns over their investments under the accountant’s management. WA Police are still investigating, and are also reportedly trying to recover the funds on behalf of those who have allegedly had their savings and retirement funds affected.
Unfortunately, money is not always recoverable in circumstances involving deception related offences. A case in point is the current civil case against missing Sydney woman Melissa Caddock, who was under investigation by the ASIC at the time of her disappearance. She has been accused of defrauding clients of more than $23 million over a number of years. ASIC -- the financial regulator -- dropped its charges against her, but a civil case is proceeding, launched by disgruntled investors trying to recover their money.
Detecting Fraud and Stealing
Advancements in technology, along with the increasing amounts of time we spend online banking, shopping and paying bills, have resulted in people becoming more vulnerable to fraud and stealing offences which are becoming more sophisticated and widespread.
Fraud and deception-related offences are now one of the largest categories of offences from all levels of Australian courts, although the figures are believed to be vastly under-reported, with only 25 percent actually reported to authorities.
Often this is because people feel embarrassed, as if in some way, it’s their own fault that they have become a victim of fraud. Yet, it is a crime with very serious consequences -- it is a violation of trust, and when people lose hard-earned savings or retirement funds, often their dreams are crushed, and this can cause very serious emotional distress. In some cases, it can also cause financial duress.
Protect yourself from Fraud
The best way to protect yourself from being defrauded is to ensure that you have up to date security settings across your devices, and to update passwords regularly. Also get into the habit of checking your financial statements.
In any financial dealings, check the fine print, and if you have questions or concerns, you can seek legal advice, or contact ASIC. ASIC maintains a database of registered financial advisors, and it also publishes a list of financial advisors who have been disqualified, and banned from practicing.
PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.