Incidents of fraud are on the rise across Alberta

Incidents of fraud are on the rise across Alberta

By Greg Dunn

Fraud is one of the most common charges laid by police, especially in Alberta.

According to Statistics Canada, it has seen the greatest increase nationwide since 2011, rising from 87,174 offences in 2011 to 168,483 in 2021.

In Alberta, 22 per cent of the population reported being a victim of at least one fraud in the past five years, the report adds, as compared to a national average of 17 per cent. Across Canada, fraud was reported to police more often than other common property crimes, such as break and enter, motor vehicle theft or shoplifting.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, there were 32,458 reports of fraud in Canada in the first six months of 2023 involving 21,299 people who lost $283.5 million. During 2022, 92,078 fraud incidents were investigated by police involving 57,578 victims claiming to have lost $531 million.

Most frauds are not reported

Fraud is rarely reported to the police. According to StatsCan it is estimated that 11 per cent of victims filed complaints with police compared to a 29 per cent average for other crimes.

The RCMP states the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received a total of 70,878 reports in 2022. More than 37,047 involved mass marketing fraud, which involved the use of a telephone, physical mail or email.

The RCMP notes:

  • The top three most reported types of fraud in 2022 were phishing, extortion and personal information scams, designed to get people to reveal sensitive information such as their Social Insurance Number, passwords or banking details.
  • The 2022 frauds with the highest levels of reported victim losses were investment scams, particularly cryptocurrency fraud, romance scams and phishing.
  • Phishing often takes the form of email or text messages that appear to come from a legitimate company. They usually direct people to click on a link that brings them to a fake website where they are asked to enter or verify personal information such as a credit card number, which is captured by the fraudster.
  • Nearly a quarter of fraud, recorded in 2021 were committed through mass information technologies, according to StatsCan, with “nine in 10 [fraud victims] using the Internet daily and two-thirds reported making purchases online.”

Scam calls in Alberta

According to one news report there were 849 reported victims of scam calls in Alberta in 2022 with their losses totalling more than $5.4 million.

“The amount that phone scammers have stolen from Albertans has nearly doubled compared to two years prior, mirroring a national trend with fewer victims, but millions of dollars lost,” the story states.

A spokesman for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said one common phone scam involves the caller claiming that a grandchild is in jail or in the hospital and needs money. That particular scam “took more than a million dollars from Albertans last year,” he explained.

The report adds there are many reasons why Canadians lost more in 2022, but the primary one is that scammers increasingly have access to more information that they can use to appear legitimate.

"If we're sharing information about our family and stuff on social media, well, that information can probably be used, for example, with the grandparent scam, where fraudsters in some cases know the name of the grandchild and the name of the grandparents," he said.

The story adds that 30 Albertans lost a total of $2.1 million to investment scams in 2022, an average of about $72,000 per victim.

Defences against fraud charges

It wasn’t me: If someone is defrauded of property or money through online communications it is likely there has not been any face-to-face contact, so firmly identifying the culprit can be difficult. Investigators can track electronic messages, however, that can be difficult if the tracking goes back to a publicly available computer at a library or some other location.

You lacked intent: It is a defence to say you were unaware that your actions were fraudulent or dishonest. However, this defence will not work if you were reckless or wilfully blind to certain facts.

Your Charter rights were violated: In the course of an investigation police sometimes either deliberately or inadvertently violate a person’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Perhaps police have conducted an unreasonable search and seizure to obtain evidence. In those circumstances, your lawyer can ask that any evidence gathered in that search be excluded from consideration.

What the Crown has to prove

To obtain a conviction the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused defrauded either the public in general or any individual person(s). The Crown is not necessarily required to prove who the individual that was defrauded actually is. The victim must be defrauded of property, money, valuable security or a service that wasn’t rendered. The Crown is NOT required to prove that actual economic loss occurred, although they must prove that an actual risk of economic loss could have occurred.

The Crown must further prove that the fraud was committed by actual deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means. Finally, the Crown must prove that the accused had the subjective knowledge of the prohibited act and that the performance of this prohibited act could have, as a consequence, caused the deprivation of the complainant’s economic interests.

Sentences upon conviction

Section 380 (1) of the Criminal Code makes it a crime to “defraud the public or any person, whether ascertained or not, of any property, money or valuable security or any service.” The sentence a person will face upon conviction largely depends on the size of the fraud.

If the value of the fraud was less than $5,000 and the Crown proceeds by indictment, the maximum sentence is two years in jail. However, if the accused has no prior criminal record, the Crown will often elect to proceed summarily with lesser penalties given.

If the value of the fraud was less than $5,000 and the Crown proceeds by indictment, the maximum prison sentence is 14 years.

In addition, if the property value of the fraud is more than $1 million, that will be considered an aggravating circumstance and will result in a harsher sentence.

Types of fraud

Various criminal actions could fall under the umbrella of fraud. They include:

  • Online fraud, which includes romance scams, phishing emails, lottery/prize scams and impersonation scams.
  • Identity theft and fraud.
  • Business fraud, which includes phone scams targeting businesses, contractor and home repair schemes, misleading and aggressive door-to-door sales and duct-cleaning schemes.
  • Investment fraud, which includes Ponzi or pyramid investments, cryptocurrency scams, real estate offerings and offshore investing schemes.
  • Phone fraud, which includes people claiming they are technical support staff, fraudulent telemarketers, grandparent scams, inheritance schemes and false offers to reduce credit card payments.

Contact us for assistance

A conviction for fraud carries serious consequences including a criminal record that will affect the offender’s chances of employment and housing. Those charged with this crime should speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible to discuss their options. Contact us for a free consultation.