Category:financial crimes

Victims Face Obstacles in Collecting on Criminal Restitution Orders

Guest Blog by: Kathryn Adams

While it can initially seem like a victory for a crime victim to be awarded a Restitution Order by a Canadian Court , in reality it usually is not. Collecting on such orders is frustratingly elusive due to the many protections that offenders enjoy, impeding the victims who are seeking outstanding restitution through civil court.

The woman who was convicted of embezzling from my small business was sentenced to house arrest. As part of her house arrest and parole requirements, she was ordered to make restitution payments, which she did while under court supervision because she feared actual jail. Avoiding incarceration can be a powerfully persuasive motivator.

Alas, collecting on the remainder of the order is causing significant difficulty because the deck is stacked in favour of the offender. The offender in my case feels fully entitled to keep the remaining funds that she was convicted of stealing, which is a huge sum. Now that the period of house arrest and parole supervision has come to an end, there is no incentive for the offender to repay the balance of the order against her.

The offender has boldly declared to her parole officer that she “declines to pay” any further restitution (even though she is quite able to do so) once she is free of legal supervision. An offender who knows how toothless the laws are for civil enforcement of restitution orders can display a lot of hubris without fear of repercussion.

The offender has no obligation to disclose to me (or to her parole officer) the name of her legal representative, which now makes it difficult for me to serve legal notices. Moreover, the parole officer was legally unable to disclose to me the name of the offender’s employer or home address because of Canadian privacy laws. Steps to enforce a restitution order require that the offender be served with a request to pay.

A victim cannot serve notices to an offender who is legally permitted to hide behind privacy laws. Restitution orders are thus rendered largely useless to a victim and issuing them becomes little more than a formality.

A web search for information turns up little else than cautions about how difficult the process is to gain enforcement of a restitution judgement. It leaves the victims to bear an egregious portion of the cost of enforcing reparations in addition to the cost of the crime losses they have already suffered.

While “remedies” to enforce collection exist, in practical application they do not. In theory, one can seize bank accounts of offenders but that requires knowing the offender’s bank account numbers. The banks would violate Canada ‘s privacy laws if they disclosed such information without the account-holder’s consent. No offender is going to permit such a disclosure.

Even if a bank account number was discovered, the offender can simply and immediately switch banks and/or account numbers, forcing the victim back to square one.

Saskatchewan has a very successful Civil Enforcement Program that has unequivocally proven that such a program works. Victims who are assisted in collecting restitution are less of a drain on other social systems. Holding offenders accountable to pay restitution even beyond their incarceration is a significant deterrent to crime, and certainly a deterrent to recidivism.

The implementation of such a program is necessary ASAP in all provinces, as both a further disincentive to offenders who would commit fraud and, concomitantly, a welcome means for victims to collect far more successfully on their restitution judgments.

ROMANCE FRAUD/SCAMS

This year, 1 in 900 Canadian men and women will be defrauded of an average of 15,000 Canadian dollars by romance fraud. The scammer will probably use dating websites to make an electronic connection with the victim but will quickly request changing to cellphone and email contact. The scammer will send photographs and a personal profile to appear to be someone legitimate looking for a relationship. All this information will be fictitious. Private telephone conversations usually occur late at night time, in order to physically tire out the victim, and will take place regularly for weeks to months. The victim will spend increasing periods of time “sharing information”. When the offending scammer has gathered the victim’s personal information, the conversations become more intimate with personal details and shared likes. Claims of attachment, adoration and love are used to convince a vulnerable victim that the relationship is real and serious. 

When the relationship is considered close, requests for small amounts of money are made by the scammer. Once the victim begins to send money, the scammer may describe sudden personal health problems and/or financial difficulties. The scammer will request increased sums of money be sent through the mail or wire service to another country. The scammer may request the victim to cash a cheque or offer to repay by cheque. The scammer’s cheque will be returned to the victim indicating insufficient funds. The money requested gradually increases with requests for assistance with urgent medical bills, money for an airplane ticket or assistance with payments in order to purchase the “house of their dreams”. The love struck victim may initially be unable to accept that the acquaintance is really a scammer until substantial money has been lost even though in most cases they have never met one another in person.

Safety tips
Prevent such romance scams by only using reputable dating websites. Use Google to check personal information given to you. Do not ever send money or give bank account or credit card numbers to people you meet online. Personal information and photographs should not be exchanged with online acquaintances. The sooner the victim identifies the signs of a romance scam, which almost always occur in the phases described above, the less money will be lost and the loss of the relationship will be less emotionally devastating. Take heed of the warning signs highlighted in the above scenario. Keep all emails, messages and receipts. Block anyone you do not wish to contact.

Take Action
If you or someone you know may be being scammed romantically, contact your local police to report what has happened to you, AS WELL AS the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Scammers can break you financially and emotionally. A good website to visit for more detailed information is www.romancescams.org.  Seek professional assistance and support, if needed.

Guest blog by: Dr. Steven Rubin
Victimology Graduate Certificate Program, Algonquin College

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

What's New