Wire & Mail Fraud FAQ


1/2/2019

Wire and mail fraud are two commonly charged – yet commonly misunderstood – federal criminal offenses. Federal prosecutors are able to add wire or mail fraud charges to many other fraud-related cases, often resulting in additional potential penalties. The following are some frequently asked questions regarding wire fraud and mail fraud. To discuss a specific case, please contact our criminal defense law firm as soon as possible.

What is wire fraud?
Wire fraud is any fraudulent act to achieve wrongful gain that makes use of the telephone, internet, or other electronic communications such as television or radio. This is a criminal offense set out by the Wire Fraud Act, which criminalizes any scheme using such communications that involve false misrepresentations, promises, or pretenses intended to defraud someone to gain money or property.

What elements does a prosecutor have to prove for a wire fraud conviction?
To convict you of wire fraud, a prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You designed a scheme to defraud another person by putting forth a material misrepresentation
  • You had the intent to defraud
  • By using interstate or international electronic communications

Note that there is no requirement that a victim actually loses money for a wire fraud conviction. This means you can be charged and convicted for even an attempt to defraud someone.


What qualifies as a “scheme to defraud”?
Courts have broadly defined what constitutes a fraudulent scheme for the purposes of wire fraud. It may involve calling a senior adult and lying about your identity to gather personal or financial information for identity theft or credit card fraud purposes. Internet and email scam can also qualify as wire fraud. You should always have a defense lawyer examine whether your specific situation may constitute wire fraud.

What qualifies as a “material misrepresentation”?
Courts define a material misrepresentation as a misrepresentation that is capable of influencing or convincing someone else to make a decision. It must be something another person would naturally consider as an important factor in making decisions regarding the transaction in question, or something the fraudster would know is an important factor to the particular person in question. You can often defend against wire fraud allegations by challenging the materiality of the misrepresentation.

What are the potential penalties for a wire fraud violation?
A conviction of wire fraud can result in fines that will depend on the circumstances of your case. You can also be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison. If the wire fraud allegations stem from a disaster or emergency declared by the president or the scheme impacts a financial institution, you may face $1,000,000 in fines and a 30-year prison sentence. You may also be ordered to pay restitution if victims suffered financial harm.


What is mail fraud?
Mail fraud has been a criminal offense in the United States since 1872, and the offense involves using the U.S. Postal Service to defraud someone for a wrongful monetary benefit. Mail fraud can also stem from the use of a private interstate mail service.

What elements does a prosecutor have to prove for a wire fraud conviction?
The elements of mail fraud are similar to that of wire fraud. A prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an intentional scheme to defraud that used the mail to help carry out the plan. The scheme to defraud must involve putting forth a material representation, and the requirements for materiality are also similar to those for wire fraud determinations.



What are some examples of mail fraud?
People use the mail to try to defraud others in many ways, often to obtain money directly, financial information, or personal information for identity theft purposes. Some examples of common mail fraud schemes include:

  • Pyramid schemes
  • Ponzi schemes
  • Mail that appears to be from government agencies
  • Sweepstakes or lottery propaganda
  • Solicitations for donations from false charities
  • Offers of low-cost health insurance involving advance fees
  • Credit offers for people with low credit scores involving advance fees
  • Get-rich-quick investment offers
  • Land purchase offers
  • Vacation scams
  • Notices of false inheritance
  • Work-from-home opportunities

As you can see, mail fraud can come in many forms. Though there are many warnings for people not to fall for mail scams, people continue to do so, and so the scams continue.

What are the potential penalties for a wire fraud violation?
You can face fines and prison time depending on the circumstances of your case. If the mail fraud allegations stem from a disaster or emergency declared by the president or the scheme impacts a financial institution, you may face $1,000,000 in fines and a 30-year prison sentence. You may also be ordered to pay restitution if victims suffered financial harm.

You should also realize that there is a provision of mail fraud law addressing mail fraud aimed at committing identity theft. Specifically, the law prohibits using any false name, title, or address on anything that goes through the mail. If convicted of violating this provision, you can face additional fines and an additional five years in prison. 

Furthermore, you may face additional charges related to the specific fraud scheme that utilized wire or mail communications. Such charges can be for:

  • Healthcare fraud
  • Insurance fraud
  • Investment fraud
  • Credit card fraud
  • Bank fraud
  • Any other type of fraud crime

The penalties for any additional convictions may result in additional penalties.

Many people think that mail and wire fraud are simply tacked on to other allegations and are not a serious matter. However, federal authorities take these offenses very seriously – and so should you. You shouldn’t wait to contact a highly experienced federal criminal defense lawyer if you are under investigation or have been arrested for a federal fraud crime.

Call an Experienced Philadelphia Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Right Away
When you face federal criminal charges, you need Wimmer Criminal Defense Law on your side. We represent clients in and around Philadelphia and in federal courts. Please call 215-712-1212 or contact us online to learn how we can protect your rights.