Covid-19 Fraud: Criminal lawyer says courts are seeing an increase in prosecutions of fraudulent applications made for cash payments during lockdown

Criminal lawyers say the number of people being charged with fraud offences related to Covid-19 payments, such as JobSaver, JobKeeper and JobSeeker, is increasing.  NSW Police have formed task forces to investigate rorting of government support packages. The Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink are also focussing on overpayments and falsified applications for support packages and welfare payments, as well as early superannuation withdrawal.

The prosecutions range from criminal groups to individuals. In November 2021, NSW Police revealed it suspected a single group of fraudsters submitted 120 bogus grant applications for Covid-19 funds meant for struggling small businesses. In December 2021, Strike Force Sainsbury charged a single individual with 52 counts of fraud relating to applications he made for business grants that totalled $530,000.

Criminal Lawyer Joseph Correy of Australian Criminal Law Group said former Federal Labor MP Craig Thompson’s case is a more typical example of the kind of prosecutions that are coming before the courts for fraud relating to COVID-19 government support payments. Mr Thompson is accused of making applications for the small business COVID-19 support in relation to a demolished café that was no longer trading. The total value of government support totalled $25,000, with Mr Thomson applying for JobSeeker payments and rental assistance.

“Mr Thompson was charged with fraud, also known as dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, and publishing false or misleading material to obtain an advantage,” Mr Correy said. “Those are the preferred charges the police are laying at the moment for the rorting of COVID-19 payments”.

Criminal Lawyers help offenders avoid maximum penalties

Mr Correy said that while the prosecutions are being brought under state legislation by the NSW Police, the approach the courts take to sentencing people who are guilty of COVID-19 fraud is similar to the approach they take to social security fraud. “The courts have often said in cases of fraud on the social security system, a sentence of full-time jail or imprisonment should be expected to deter others from engaging in similar behaviour, but our criminal lawyers are for the most part are able to keep our clients out of prison and sometimes we can convince the courts not to record a conviction at all”.

Mr Correy said the likely sentence imposed will depend on a number of factors including:

  • The amount of money obtained.
  • The number of fraudulent claims.
  • The length of the fraud.
  • Whether the fraud formed part of organised criminal activity or criminal group.
  • Any attempts at concealing the offending or any level of sophistication.
  • If there were any false statements made or any positive attempts to deceive.
  • The method of detection.
  • Any monies paid back.
  • Whether the money was obtained as a result of “need” as opposed to “greed” e.g., to fund an addiction, pay necessities and bills, etc.

 What is Fraud?

Section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) deals with fraud-related crime.

The Commonwealth equivalent offence is found in Section 135.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995, being Obtaining a Financial Advantage by Deception against a Commonwealth entity (for example Centrelink).

COVID-19 Fraud includes claiming government financial assistance that you are not personally entitled to in your own name and using stolen identities to obtain financial assistance a person is not entitled to.

To be found guilty of fraud the police need to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • That you, by deception:
  • Obtained a financial advantage; or
  • Caused a financial disadvantage; or
  • Obtained property belonging to another; and
  • the obtaining of the advantage, or disadvantage, was dishonest.

Other fraud offences include Intention to defraud by false or misleading statement, publishing false or misleading material to obtain advantage, and dealing with identification information with intent to commit or facilitate an indictable offence.

Read more about fraud offences, penalties and defences here.

Could you be under investigation for COVID-19 Fraud?

The NSW government has announced it is bringing in experts to investigate what Service NSW suspected was millions of dollars worth of COVID 19 business support payment program fraud.

The NSW Police Force has similarly formed a number of strike forces, some of which are publicly known and others that are not.  These strike forces investigate and prosecute fraudulent COVID-19 applications and payments.

The Australian Taxation Office is focussing on fraud and schemes relating to the government’s COVID-19 stimulus package including JobKeeper. For JobKeeper Payments, the ATO has said it is focussing on:

  • Ensuring that all JobKeeper payments are made only to eligible businesses based on income
  • Ensuring that JobKeeper payments are claimed for eligible employees only
  • That all JobKeeper claims are made correctly.
  • Ensuring that businesses are not manipulating their turnover in order to obtain JobKeeper Payments

For employers that have entered into a scheme to help boost cash flow, the Australian Taxation Office is looking for:

  • Businesses that artificially restructured in order to gain access to the cash flow boost
  • Salary or wage payments having changes made to the character of payments to maximise the cash flow boost
  • Maximising cash flow boost by inflating reported withholding amounts.
  • Resurrecting dormant entities or phoenixing
  • Fraudulent attempts or making false statements to create an entitlement

For early release superannuation, the Australian Taxation Office has said it is focussing on:

  • Early release of superannuation when there is no change to your regular salary, wage or employment.
  • Artificially arranging affairs so you can meet the eligibility criteria for early release of superannuation.
  • Making false statements or fraudulent attempts to meet eligibility criteria for early release superannuation
  • Withdrawing and re-contributing super for a tax advantage – this could not only trigger anti-avoidance rules but also result in additional taxes and impact your eligibility for a super co-contribution.

What is the penalty for COVID-19 Fraud?

The maximum penalty for ‘dishonestly obtain financial advantage or property by deception is 10 years imprisonment when heard in the District Court.  However, the local court will hear most cases with a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

Read more about fraud offences, penalties and defences here.

What to do if charged with COVID-19 fraud?

Before being charged, the NSW Police, Centrelink or the Australian Taxation Office will likely contact you.  If so, we recommend that you contact us before providing any information or saying anything to them.   Any admissions you make may be used against you in court.

Get in touch with a criminal lawyer today for COVID-19 Fraud charges.  Australian Criminal Law Group is working with those who have been charged with this offence.  This is because we have the strongest legal defence team for fraud-related crimes.  We know how to beat charges of fraud.  We also get the best results possible for those who choose to plead guilty.

Our solicitors have a proven track record of keeping our clients out of gaol.  Depending on the seriousness of the allegation, also not having a conviction recorded.

Contact Sydney’s best Fraud Defence Lawyers

Our criminal lawyers are experts at obtaining the best outcome possible for Fraud. For these offences, a good lawyer can be the difference between a conviction and no criminal record and freedom or jail.

To discuss your charge of Fraud, call Australian Criminal Law Group at our SydneyParramatta, and Blacktown offices on (02) 8815 8167 or make a website inquiry today.

 

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