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Fraud Offences Articles

What happens for a first offence of Advanced Fee Fraud?

Insurance Fraud

In the realm of criminal offences, advanced fee fraud is seen as particularly serious and carries severe penalties because it so often involves fraud being carried out against innocent members of the public. If you or someone you know is facing charges related to advanced fee fraud or is already undergoing prosecution as a first-time offender, obtaining detailed information about the offence is incredibly important, not only for your potential defence but also for your peace of mind going forward. This article aims to provide an overview of advanced fee fraud, answering some of the most common questions that arise for first-time offenders.

What is the offence of advanced fee fraud?

Advanced fee fraud, also known as upfront fee fraud, is a type of scam where the victim is persuaded to pay a sum of money in the expectation of receiving a significantly larger sum in return, which never materialises. These scams can take many forms, such as lottery scams, inheritance scams, or investment scams. While the term ‘advanced fee fraud’ itself is not codified in English law, the acts that constitute such fraud are covered under various pieces of legislation, primarily the Fraud Act 2006.

The most relevant offence under the Fraud Act 2006 is fraud by false representation. To secure a conviction for advanced fee fraud, the prosecution would generally need to prove:

  • False representation. The defendant made a false representation. This could involve falsely stating that the victim will receive a large sum of money if they pay a fee upfront.
  • Dishonesty. The defendant acted dishonestly. The defendant must have realised that their actions were dishonest by the standards of reasonable and honest people.
  • Intent to make a gain or cause a loss. The defendant intended to make a gain for themselves or another, or to cause a loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.
  • Victim’s reliance. The victim was induced by the false representation to pay the advance fee.

Penalties for advanced fee fraud under the Fraud Act 2006 include imprisonment, fines, and orders to pay compensation to the victim. The exact penalties will vary depending on the severity of the fraud and the view of the judge on what a fair and proportionate punishment is. Remember that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and other enforcement agencies in the UK actively investigate and prosecute advanced fee fraud cases, and they too have an input in what kind of punishment is suitable for the offender, if found guilty.

What are some examples of advanced fee fraud?

Examples of this offence include:

  • Ticket scams – where scammers offer tickets to events that they do not possess. The customer pays for the tickets, which never materialise, or receive fake tickets that can’t be used​​.
  • Work from home or business opportunity scams – these involve scammers offering attractive opportunities to make money from working at home or setting up an online business, requiring upfront payment. The schemes often turn out to be pyramid selling schemes, and the promised earnings never materialise​.
  • Loan scams – in this scenario, scammers approve a fast loan from an applicant, typically in response to an advert or website, without any checking. A fee will be payable for ‘insurance’, for example, and once the victim pays that fee, they never hear from the scammers again​.
  • Lottery prize draw scams – victims are contacted with a message stating they have won a large amount of money on a lottery. The victim is then asked to pay various fees to claim their winnings, which never materialise​.
  • Career opportunity scams – scammers promise a glittering launch of a career, requiring an upfront fee. The promised opportunities never materialise​.
  • Impersonation of officials – scammers impersonate official government departments, demanding taxes to be paid​.
  • Online dating scams – scammers create a false online profile and build an intimate online relationship with the victim, then ask for money for various reasons​.
  • Rental fraud – victims are tricked into paying an upfront fee to rent a property that does not exist, has been rented out to someone else, or has been rented to multiple victims at the same time​​.
  • Fraud recovery fraud – victims of an advance fee scam are targeted by scammers claiming they can recover the money lost. To get money from the victim, they will likely ask for admin or release fees​​.

What happens if you are suspected of committing advanced fee fraud in the UK?

Advanced fee fraud is a type of financial crime. Sometimes referred to as ‘419 fraud‘ after the relevant section of the Nigerian criminal code, it involves a request for an upfront payment or transfer of funds in anticipation of a much larger gain that never materialises. This type of fraud can take many forms, including lottery scams, inheritance scams, and business opportunity scams.

If you are suspected of committing advanced fee fraud in the UK, generally this process will be followed:

Investigation. The investigation will typically be carried out by the police, often in cooperation with other bodies such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the SFO. The police will gather evidence from various sources, including bank records, emails, and any other forms of communication you may have had with the alleged victims. They will also take statements from the victims and any other potential witnesses.

Arrest and interview. If there is sufficient evidence to suggest your involvement in the fraud, you may be arrested. Following your arrest, you will be interviewed under caution at a police station. During this interview, you are entitled to have a solicitor present, and it is strongly advised to do so. Anything you say during this interview can be used as evidence in court.

Charges. If the evidence against you is strong enough, you will be charged with the offence. Advanced fee fraud can be prosecuted under various sections of the Fraud Act 2006, depending on the specifics of the case. This might include fraud by false representation, or fraud by failing to disclose information.

Court proceedings. The case will then proceed to court. As with boiler room fraud, advanced fee fraud is an indictable offence, meaning it will be heard in a Crown Court before a judge and a jury. If you are found guilty, you could face a significant prison sentence and may also be required to pay back the money you gained through the fraud under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

For someone facing charges for the first time, it is vital to seek legal representation as soon as possible. The legal process can be complex, and having a competent and experienced fraud solicitor behind you will help to protect your rights.

What is the sentence for advanced fee fraud in the UK?

Advanced fee fraud is a type of fraud governed by the Fraud Act 2006. It is a triable either way offence that carries a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment for the most serious of cases.

The judge will examine various factors related to the culpability (which can be understood as blameworthiness or guiltiness) of the offender and the extent of harm caused by the offence. In assessing these factors, the judge will reach an equitable decision about the appropriate sentence.

Examples of aggravating factors that could lead to a more severe sentence include: the offence being conducted as part of a larger organised crime scheme or gang activity; the offence being a repeat action; other crimes being perpetrated concurrently with the offence; and the offence having a significant impact on the victims. Mitigating factors that might reduce a sentence, conversely, include: this being a first time offence; the offender expressing remorse or making attempts to remedy the harm caused; good character or exemplary conduct in other areas; the offender’s young age or lack of maturity; and the original action being legitimate.

A confiscation order may also be issued by the Crown Court under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 if it is determined that the offender still possesses assets acquired through the fraud.

Will I go to prison if it is my first time committing advanced fee fraud?

In short, it is hard to tell. Without a doubt, this offence is of utmost seriousness, and judges seldom consider suspending sentences, unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

However, first-time offenders often have an advantage because the very fact that this constitutes their first offence is generally regarded as a mitigating circumstance. As such, regardless of the sentencing guidelines, the first-time nature of the offence could lead to a reduced sentence.

Seeking advice from an experienced criminal defence solicitor is paramount in cases of advanced fee fraud. A good lawyer will provide valuable insights into the typical handling of similar cases, evaluate the strength of your defence, and identify any additional mitigating factors that may influence the final outcome.

Where to get further help

When facing a charge or trial for advanced fee fraud, you are sure to have various concerns and questions about the next steps. Know that seeking expert legal advice early on can be the key to a favourable outcome. At Stuart Miller Solicitors, we may even have the ability to get the case dismissed before it goes to trial, particularly for first-time offenders. Don’t hesitate to contact our team today for a free, friendly, and no-obligation consultation.

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