Whether you are in a big organisation or a small family run business, there could be a chance of fraud operating in and around you. It is particularly the case where you trust those around you to carry out your instructions and company procedures.
The most obvious effect of this is of course you become a victim of fraud. There is however another effect on a small minority of people and that is that you yourself are accused of being involved in the fraud.
Many people dismiss this suggestion as ridiculous and that only those knowingly involved in a fraud are charged. No smoke without fire? If you think about it carefully than it isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.
If you run a busy, profitable organisation you need to delegate a lot of work to those around you. The busier you get the more profitable you become and inevitably you take your eye off the detail. The only way you can do that is to delegate that to trusted staff.
In family companies this may well be family members. In these circumstances the trust you place in these people is immense and becomes more so as time goes on. It is the trust that could lead to your downfall.
How often do you sign documentation without reading it because you trust the person you are dealing with? Often it is such a high breach of your trust that will lead you to being charged. Fraud is all about a paper trail and sometimes that paper trail can lead to your door without you realising it. It is only then that you will realise how lame it will sound when you say time after time that you were completely unaware of what you were signing.
Sometimes the first you will know of this is when the police or other regulatory bodies come knocking at your door to arrest you. You may be asked questions on documents or bank statements going back years and it is highly likely at that stage that you will have no idea how to answer those questions.
You may also think to yourself that you don’t need a solicitor because you are innocent. That is where you are wrong. It is very easy to talk yourself into further trouble at that stage as you may recognise that you have made mistakes and it is human nature to try and avoid admitted that. Small lies and omissions at this stage can be devastating. One example of this is realising that you have indeed signed cheques that were blank, you know it is against the regulations but you trusted the people involved implicitly.
Another difficult situation is where you uncover the fraud yourself. You may even realise at this stage that you are likely to be implicated. So what do you do? You certainly need legal advice. It is usually preferable to alert the authorities in some capacity. This could be in the form of self reporting to the Serious Fraud Office or simply ringing the police.
Don’t take either of these steps without legal advice though. It is often the case that you can limit the damage against you in these circumstances and potentially avoid prosecution or at worst will sound far better to a jury when you explain your actions upon discovering the fraud.
One of the most important things to do once you have been accused of fraud is to ensure the legal team you are dealing with have sufficient expertise to help you. You need an expert in defending fraud allegations who can help you with every stage of the proceedings. You will need someone who can defend you at the police station. You will need someone who can deal with a restraint order should your assets be frozen. You will need someone who can instruct and understand a forensic accountant to show where the money has gone and to support your version of events. You will need someone who can understand your business and how you have conducted it. Finally you will need someone who will fight your corner come what may.
By fraud and regulatory partner, Rachel Adamson
At Stephensons we have a team of experts ready to advise you whatever you have been accused of. We have particular expertise in representing businessmen and professionals in respect of investment fraud, tax fraud, VAT fraud and mortgage fraud.