One legal definition of fraud reads, “the intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right.” A key word in that sentence is “intentional.” By definition, if you accidentally, and thus unintentionally commit fraud, you should be safe from reprimand.
However, the line of intent can sometimes be blurry and there are certain ways that you could unwittingly commit fraud and still receive discipline including fees and even jail time.
Below are three common ways that average people might commit fraud without even realizing it.
1. Accepting Overpayment of Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment benefits are strictly regulated with regard to how much a person can receive based on any income they already have coming in and what they were making when they were last employed. Your employment and income circumstances can change which, along with other factors, can lead to overpayment of your unemployment benefits. If you receive an overpayment of your benefits and you fail to pay it back, you are committing fraud. It may be very tempting to keep that extra money, you might look at it in the same light as getting back too much change at the grocery store (although the right thing to do would be to return that as well), you might not even realize that you received more than you were rightfully owed, but nonetheless you are required to pay the extra cash back to the government in full.
The overpayment may even have nothing to do with your actions. For example, your previous employer could have kept poor books and thus the unemployment office was misinformed about how much money you were making at your last job. It doesn’t matter, if you don’t pay back the difference you have committed fraud and you probably don’t even realize it. And don’t forget, failing to fulfill your unemployment duties, such as continuing to look for a new job, also falls into the category of “unemployment fraud.”
2. Failure To Notify Car Insurance Agency of Changes
Accidental fraud, by virtue of being an accident, usually means the person committing the fraudulent act simply made an oversight. One of the most common of these errors is neglecting to inform your car insurance company of changes that could affect your premium. For example, if you move and you do not update the insurance company, this is technically a form of fraud since different states and jurisdictions have varying laws about insurance that affect how much you pay each month.
Also, not reporting changes in how you use your vehicle can land you in hot water. This includes if you report that you use your vehicle for work purposes and you stop utilizing it thusly without alerting your insurance company. These are certainly less malicious forms of fraud than, say, staging an accident to collect on the insurance, but they are fraudulent nonetheless. Be sure to keep your insurance agency well-informed on any changes that could affect your insurance.
3. Disputing a Credit Card Purchase That You Didn’t Realize You Made
There is an enormous number of ways that people commit credit card fraud, and you may fall into that category if you make this mistake. Credit card companies tend to be very accommodating when it comes to fraudulent purchases made on your credit card. If you see purchases that you did not make on your credit card statement, they will refund you the money and generally investigate the false purchase.
One error that is made more often than you might realize is noticing a purchase on your statement that you forgot you made and reporting it to your credit card company as fraudulent. This is an act known as “friendly fraud,” and if you do not return the money you could find yourself in serious trouble. Perhaps a member of your family made the purchase without your knowledge or you signed up for a free trial that later charged your card without your knowledge. If you receive a refund for said purchases from your credit card company, you have committed fraud.
If you have committed fraud by accident, then a strong fraud lawyer should be able to help you successfully fight the charges. Always try to be transparent and honest, and avoid fraud as well as you can, but if you find yourself facing fraud charges give us a call and let us fight to protect you.