Fraud is the intentional or deceitful actions of a person, persons or company to deprive another person of their legal rights, money or property for profit. There are many different types of fraud, including check fraud, personal identity fraud, insurance fraud and charities fraud.
Although fraud generally requires intent, there are a number of ways that you may be committing fraud without realizing it. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most common ways you may be unwittingly committing fraud.
1. Faking Illness to Get Paid Time Off from Work
Although most employees would never consider stealing a computer from their company, it’s not uncommon for some employees to call in sick to work when they are not really ill. Unfortunately, not only can this hurt office morale, it can also result in a loss of productivity and can defraud the company.
2. Using Another Person's Identity Online
Digital privacy laws, first created in the 1980s, have been updated to legally protect individuals from unauthorized access by private individuals. This means that there are laws that safeguard your privacy online.
So, not only is it a violation of social media terms of service to access someone else’s account, it may also be considered identity theft. What if you know their password? Knowing someone’s password does not make access legal. It is always against the law to access someone’s accounts, communications or email without their permission.
3. Connecting to a Wi-Fi Connection Without Permission
The 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes it illegal to access computer systems, including routers, without proper authorization. In the last several years, however, it seems that the law have become more tolerant of what is called “Wi-Fi” squatting. In fact, some legal analysts argue that because internet connectivity has become so sophisticated with the use of password-protected networks, anyone who does not have their network protected has intentionally chosen do so. Regardless, it’s always best to avoid using private, open wireless connections.
4. Accepting an Overpayment of Disability Benefits
Millions of Americans are receiving Social Security disability benefits because they are injured and unable to work. If you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, and your circumstances have changed, you must notify the Social Security Administration (SSA).
For example, if you are receiving SSI and you have returned to work or you have gotten married, you need to contact the SSA. Failure to do so may be considered fraud because you could be receiving SSI payments that you are not entitled to receive.
5. Accepting Overpayments of Unemployment Benefits
You may be committing fraud if you are accepting any type of unemployment benefit that you are not entitled to receive. Overpayments can result if you fail to report earnings or if you reported incorrect earnings when requesting benefit payments. Additionally, overpayment may also occur if you provided incorrect or false information about your job separation or work search when you applied for unemployment benefits, or if you have failed to continue to look for new work while you are receiving unemployment benefits.
6. Failing to Tell Your Car Insurance Company About Changes to Your Coverage
Although we all know it’s wrong to stage an accident or exaggerate our injuries in a car accident, you may also be committing fraud if you fail to notify your car insurance company about any change in your situation that could affect your premiums.
For example, moving to a new jurisdiction and not notifying the car insurance company, driving more miles, or using your car for a different purpose other than the one you initially reported can all be considered fraud. Additionally, fraudulent actions can also include providing inaccurate information when initially signing up for insurance or providing the wrong information following an accident.
While unintentional car insurance fraud may not lead to civil or criminal penalties, there could be other significant ramifications. For example, if the insurance company finds out that you have provided false information, they may decide to cancel your coverage or deny your claim, costing you thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs.
7. Disputing Valid Credit Card Charges
Credit card fraud is rampant in the USA. In fact, credit card fraud costs billions of dollars worldwide. While you may not be stealing credit cards or breaking into someone’s computer to get their credit card data, it is possible to unintentionally commit credit card fraud.
Common ways that consumers unintentionally commit credit card fraud can include exaggerating income or other data on a credit card application, disputing valid charges on a credit card bill to get a refund, signing someone else’s credit card receipt, or entering a false credit card number to make a trial offer purchase for a product. (Although you may have every intention of canceling the trial offer prior to the offer expiration period, failure to do so can lead to a charge on the fake credit card number that you created.)
8. Committing Medicare Fraud
Unfortunately, Medicare fraud is costing billions of dollars for American taxpayers every year. And while much of the fraud is committed by professional criminals, some of the fraud may be unwittingly committed by doctors and patients. For example, doctors and their offices may fail to describe the services that they perform accurately. They also might try to get more services covered than is legally allowed. Additionally, doctors may not keep adequate medical records, which can lead to Medicare fraud. Patients may also commit Medicare fraud by keeping overpayments that they are not entitled to keep.
9. Filling in the Wrong Details on a Bank Loan Application Form
If you are applying for a loan, it’s critical to pay close attention to the information that you provide to the lender. Providing false information about your financial history, credit information and income may not only delay the application process, it can also be considered loan fraud.
What should you do if you've unknowingly committed fraud?
The actions that you should take if you've unintentionally committed fraud depend on the situation. For example, if you have accepted an overpayment for Social Security disability benefits or unemployment benefits, you need to contact the appropriate agency and notify them of the overpayment. They will have specific processes for repayment. If you have provided false information to the insurance company about the use of your car or your residency, you will need to immediately call them and provide the correct information.
If, however, your fraud was intentional and more serious, and you are facing criminal charges, you may need to contact a criminal defense lawyer and find out what actions you need to take to defend yourself against fraud charges.