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How does someone prove intent in a fraud case?

You don’t need to commit a fraud to find yourself under investigation for one. You might have made a billing mistake or misunderstood the terms of a contract. Maybe you decided to buy stock in your company at just the wrong time. Or perhaps someone in your office was committing fraud, but it wasn’t you.

No matter why you find yourself under investigation, you want to understand what the investigators are trying to do. Most fraud charges require proof of intent, so the investigators will likely be looking for proof of your intentions. Now, you might think that should clear you. After all, it’s reasonable to expect no one could find proof you intended something you never intended. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Intent and the burden of proof

Even though prosecutors may have to prove intent in fraud cases, that proof doesn’t have to be 100% direct. Instead, as the Department of Justice notes, prosecutors will try to present enough evidence that the sum of it can serve as proof. In the case of a jury trial, that would mean convincing the jurors beyond a reasonable doubt.

Since they can’t get into your head or force you to testify against yourself, this means prosecutors may try to show your intent with such evidence as:

  • Records of your statements and conduct
  • Testimony from witnesses who claim they were defrauded
  • Complaint letters that could show you were made aware of possible fraud

The Department of Justice says that complaints can serve as evidence because if you continue to act in some way that others are suggesting is fraud, it shows you’re continuing with intent.

Understanding your rights

The fact that prosecutors can use circumstantial evidence to prove your intent makes it even more important that you respond the right way to an investigation. You don’t want to give investigators anything they might use against you. Instead, you should remember your rights:

  • The right to avoid implicating yourself. With some limited exceptions, you don’t need to answer an investigator’s questions. If you suspect you’re being investigated, silence is often the best response.
  • The right to an attorney. You have this right even if the investigators don’t remind you of it. When you say you want your lawyer, investigators should stop asking you questions until your lawyer is present.

Fraud cases can be complicated. During an investigation, the investigators try to piece together the whole picture. If they start asking you questions, it’s likely they already have some of the pieces and are looking for ways to fit them together. You want to be careful about the pieces you might supply them.

At Kammen & Moudy, we understand the challenges faced by someone under investigation. Our attorneys are familiar with the complexities of the different types of fraud and work with clients to mount strong defenses even during the early stages of an investigation.

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