Common Types of COVID-19 Fraud
The Department of Justice warns that people around the world are trying to utilize COVID-19 to their advantage to earn money through phone, mail, and email. In many cases, these individuals can find themselves faced with fraud charges, even if they are unaware that they are committing fraud. Following are some examples of common types of fraud seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charity scams are one of the more common types of fraud happening right now. People have an instinct to want to help in times like this. Some individuals take it upon themselves to set up charities or create crowdfunding pages with the intent of donating collected money to those affected by the pandemic. However, if that money doesn’t go where you promised it would, you could be committing fraud. If the organization you chose to donate to initially closes down, for example, and you pocket the money or take portions of the funds to purchase things for yourself, you could find yourself facing fraud charges.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, many people have found themselves unemployed while their places of work are shut down. Thus, individuals have turned to seeking unemployment benefits in the meantime in order to pay their bills. Occasionally, however, mistakes can happen during the process that result in overpayment. Your employer could have been keeping poor records, or there could be an error in the paperwork. If you do not return these extra funds, you could be committing fraud, even if the mistake is not your fault. Additionally, unemployment benefits often come with requirements, such as requiring that you actively seek employment or do not turn down work. If you fail to comply with these requirements but still accept unemployment benefits, you could be committing fraud.
Right now, there is no vaccine or recognized treatment for COVID-19. However, you may have been convinced that a certain product works in helping to prevent catching COVID-19. These items might include essential oils, CBD products, herbal pills, or even tests. If you attempt to sell such products with the claim that they cure or prevent COVID-19 and they are not approved by the appropriate government agencies, you could be accused of committing fraud.
Credit Card Fraud
There are several types of credit card fraud that you could be committing without realizing it, especially while money is tight during lockdown. If you apply for a new credit card to help while income is limited, for example, but lie on the application, there’s the potential for a fraud charge. You could also face charges for using someone else’s credit card without permission or using someone’s credit card after they have passed away.
A type of credit card fraud that people may not even consider is using a false credit card number in order to get free trials of products or services. Many people are turning to delivery services, grocery services, and even new streaming services while social distancing at home. Some of these apps and services will ask for a valid credit card number in order to use a free trial. You may have been tempted to use a website that provides fake credit card numbers, but some of these sites may be providing you with stolen credit card numbers.
Additionally, many people are purchasing items online while retail stores are closed, and it can be difficult to remember every single online transaction you might make. Some may notice a charge for a purchase that they don’t remember making and may report it as fraud in order to get the money refunded. This, however, is fraud in itself, typically referred to as chargeback fraud.
Penalties for Fraud
The penalties that a person can face for fraud in New Jersey depend on a number of different factors that are specific to the nature of the fraud committed. Unemployment fraud penalties, for example, depend on the amount of money that was taken – the higher the amount, the stronger the penalties would be.
When it comes to credit card fraud, having someone’s credit card without their consent or using a card that was given to you by mistake could result in jail time of up to 18 months and a fine of up to $10,000. When it comes to charity fraud, the first offense in New Jersey can result in a fine of up to $10,000. However, any subsequent offenses can result in fines of up to $20,000 per offense. Similar penalties can be faced for deceptive advertising of products, such as “miracle cures” for COVID-19.
In addition to the penalties, a criminal conviction can result in other negative effects to a person’s life. It could have negative effects on their employment or future employment, finances, the ability to take out loans, or even the ability to travel outside the country in the future. Thus, it’s important to contact a lawyer if you’ve been charged with fraud to mitigate the penalties you may face.
Defenses Against Fraud Charges
If you find yourself facing fraud charges, a Morristown fraud defense lawyer could help you form a defense against them. There are a few different defenses that a lawyer may pursue, depending on the specifics of your particular case. Some examples of the types of defenses used in fraud cases include:
- Lack of intent: In order to be convicted of fraud, it must be proven that a person had the willful intent to deceive another, causing that person to suffer a loss. However, it is possible to commit some types of fraud without the intent to do so. If you accidentally used a stolen credit card number for a free trial or accidentally made a mistake in a credit card application, a lawyer may pursue this defense.
- Non-fraudulent statements: Not every statement that is deemed false necessarily qualifies as fraud. Matters of opinion also would not be considered fraudulent.
- Lack of evidence: The burden lies on the party that brings the claim against you to prove that you committed fraud. If they lack the evidence to prove that you intentionally defrauded someone, you may not face a conviction.
- Consent: In some cases, you may actually have had consent from an individual that you allegedly defrauded. This may happen, for example, if you had permission to use a family member’s credit card when you did so. If you can provide evidence that you indeed had their permission to use their card, then fraud charges against you could be dropped.
- Mistaken identity: With the rise in internet crimes, it is a possibility that you yourself could have been the victim of fraud and that another person may have committed fraudulent acts in your name. If you have fallen prey to a phishing scheme or a case of stolen identity, someone else could use this information to defraud others. In such cases, a lawyer could help prove that you had nothing to do with the crime to try and get any charges against you dropped.
- Entrapment: In some cases, a government official or the police may compel a person to commit a crime that they normally would not. However, simply being provided the opportunity to commit said crime is often not enough for a defense on its own.
If you have been contacted by law enforcement asking about your activities during COVID-19, you should consult with a Morristown fraud defense lawyer at the Law Office of Gregg A. Wisotsky, Esq. Call us today at (973) 898-0161 to set up your initial consultation. We have offices in New Jersey, New York, and Georgia.