Online fraud is a growing concern
A charge of fraud can be laid for any act of deceit, falsehood, or other fraudulent means intended to “deprive the public or a specific person of money, property, services, or valuable security.”
Online fraud encompasses a variety of cybercrimes carried out over the Internet or e-mail. They range from notices with wording such as “you’ve been identified as the only living survivor of a millionaire, so send us your banking information so we can deposit it” to sophisticated wire fraud scams.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), 2021 was a historic year for financial losses. Based on reports to the CAFC, $379 million was lost to scams and fraud, an increase of 130 per cent compared to the previous year. The Centre notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to online services for daily activities, making them more susceptible to online fraud schemes. It is estimated that only five per cent of victims report their frauds to law enforcement or the CAFC.
Be wary of online ads promising great returns
The Ottawa Police Service’s Organised Fraud Section warned residents in 2022 to beware of crypto-currency investment scams. They explained these involve online advertisements for investment broker services that promise large returns. Once someone responds, that person will receive regular calls, text messages and emails, which leads them to trust the investment broker. They will then be directed to open an account at an online crypto-currency exchange service and make a purchase.
While the purchase of the crypto-currency is legitimate, problems arise that the funds are now controlled by a third party. People are given passwords so they can log on and see their investments grow in value. They are then encouraged to invest more. But when they try to withdraw the money, they find that it can only be done by the person pretending to be a broker, who keeps the money.
Warning signs of online fraud
Ottawa Police offer these warning signs of investment frauds.
- Supposed brokers use the WhatsApp texting app to contact you, not a traceable email.
- The text messages and reports contain grammar or spelling mistakes;
- An atypical informal salutation is used: for example, Mr. John instead of Mr. Smith.
- The promise of large returns on your investment. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Two types of charges for online fraud
The fraud charge faced will depend on whether the amount of money involved is more than or under $5,000.
In July 2022, an Ottawa-area man was charged with 13 offences including fraud over $5,000 and possession of proceeds of property obtained by crime. Police allege his online investment scam cost victims in eastern Ontario nearly $1 million. One victim invested approximately $100,000 with the purported financial investor and six others invested $800,000 between them. If convicted, the man faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.
Earlier in 2022, an Ottawa police officer was charged with fraud under $5,000 in relation to a tow-truck kickback scheme. He pleaded guilty to one count of fraud for filing a fake insurance claim and was given a conditional discharge of 18 months of probation. He and another officer face other corruption-related offences, but the fraud charges were stayed in exchange for their resignations from the force.
The maximum penalty for fraud under $5,000 is two years less a day in a provincial jail and a $5,000 fine.
Ottawa Hydro warns of online fraud scams
Ottawa Hydro warns residents to be careful if they receive an online message claiming that money is owed or that they have overpaid on your account. The utility says it does not:
- Send text/SMS messages or emails demanding payment or offering a refund.
- Request immediate payment by credit card or gift card to avoid disconnection.
- Ask for credit card information over the telephone.
- Meet customers at random locations to receive payment.
- Hire contractors for reconnection/disconnection for overdue accounts
There are times when Hydro Ottawa sends customers an automated telephone message, a direct mail letter, an email or a text to their mobile phone regarding planned outages. The utility says these messages will never demand payment or offer a refund. And if a Hydro Ottawa representative visits a home, they will be driving an official company vehicle, the utility says.
What will the court consider when passing a sentence?
The Code identifies certain conditions as aggravating when it comes to sentencing. These include:
- the magnitude, complexity, duration or degree of planning involved in the fraud;
- if the fraud impacted the stability of the economy or financial markets;
- the number of victims affected and their personal circumstances, including age, health and financial situation;
- whether the accused took advantage of their reputation in the community;
- any violation of a licensing requirement or professional standard;
- the concealment or destruction of records related to the fraud or to the disbursement of its proceeds; and
- if the value of the fraud exceeded $1-million.
What if I am a victim of online fraud?
Anyone who has received a fraudulent phone call/email/communication and has not provided any personal information or lost money can contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 to file a report for statistical purposes. Ottawa-area residents who have lost money as a result of the fraudulent communication may file a report online with the Ottawa Police Service.
Anyone who passed along their banking information or credit card numbers to a questionable person is advised to cancel the cards and notify their bank. They should also ignore any further communications from the sender and keep all documentation in case it is requested by an investigator.
Why you need my help
With cybercrime on the rise and with the government making increased efforts to curb it, it’s important to know your rights if you are accused of a cybercrime. If you have been charged with online fraud, contact me for a free consultation, in French or English. As your legal counsel, I will obtain the disclosure package from the Crown and review it, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence against you, as well as any legal defences that may be available.