Fraud and Bankruptcy

Most of the 70,000 Canadians who file for bankruptcy each year do so honestly and carry through with their obligations during the bankruptcy in order to be discharged from it with a clean financial bill of health.

However, there are those who file for bankruptcy under fraudulent reasons, and those who commit fraud after the filing. To weed out those individuals, the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy (OSB) carries out case investigations to ensure that creditors receive just payment for the bankrupt’s accrued debts.

The government lists several ways in which a bankrupt can be held accountable for misleading behaviour. The primary reason is the neglect to fully disclose property (which includes buildings, land and other assets, such as cars, business tools and artwork) or debts to the trustee in bankruptcy, or by making false statements to the trustee. Or, the bankrupt may have sold off property prior to the bankruptcy (usually to a relative or business partner, in order to shelter it from disposal during the bankruptcy), or following the filing (if it had been hidden from the trustee).

Another prime example of fraudulent behaviour is the acquisition of credit through misrepresentation. After filing for bankruptcy, the person turns over all credit cards to the trustee for cancellation and must notify potential creditors of the bankruptcy or past ones when attempting to obtain credit. Failing to do so constitutes fraud, but it should be noted that applications for credit less than $500 do not require the bankrupt to reveal the bankruptcy.

The person can also be found guilty of fraud leading up to the bankruptcy, if he/she acquired credit with the full knowledge of the inability to repay the amount borrowed, and/or demonstrated behaviour (such as living an extravagant lifestyle) indicating he/she might have been planning to file for bankruptcy.

The penalties for fraudulent behaviour in, or leading up to, a bankruptcy are considered on a case by case basis and are judged by criminal or civil courts. They are punishable according to the severity of the crime and the level of intent demonstrated by the individual in committing the offence. A person who obtains an exorbitant amount of credit in a short span of time, or by misleading creditors, and/or with the knowledge that he/she will be unable to repay the debts, may face jail time in addition to having to fully pay the debts they were seeking to have annulled.

Other offences, such as neglecting to fully disclose the history of accrued debt or filing false information, are usually punishable by conditional sentences, house arrests, community service, probationary sentences, making supplementary payments to the trustee and/or delaying the discharge from bankruptcy.

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