What Is Wire Fraud?
Wire fraud is very similar to mail fraud except that it involves the use of any wired communication, such as email, telephone, cellphone and text message, to commit a crime. The government created the crime of wire fraud to account for evolving technology. Like with mail fraud, a person commits wire fraud when he or she uses an electronic means of communication to scam an individual, organization, business or government agency out of property that does not rightfully belong to him or her. Examples of wire fraud are as follows:
Using email to trick someone into providing his or her personal information
Attempting to get someone’s financial information for fraudulent purposes over the phone
Submitting a falsified application for financial assistance via the internet
Attempting to sell property you do not own, and communicating with “potential buyers” over the phone, email or text message
Wire fraud is also a federal felony offense that carries harsh penalties.
The Elements of Mail and Wire Fraud
For mail and/or wire fraud charges to stick, the prosecution must prove that the elements of the crime exist. While the elements of a mail and wire scam differ somewhat slightly, both involve the intent to defraud or scheme.
Though it is easy for the everyday person to commit either type of these crimes, one cannot commit wire or mail fraud accidentally. To secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove that the defendant devised, intended to devise or participated in a scheme designed to trick someone out of something of value, such as property, money or an asset.
To prosecute someone for a mail crime, the prosecution must also prove that the defendant used a delivery service to execute or attempt to execute the scam. To secure a conviction for wire fraud, on the other hand, the prosecution must establish that it was reasonably foreseeable that the defendant would use wire communications to carry out the scheme, and that, eventually, he or she did use a wired communication for these purposes.
Penalties for Mail and Wire Fraud
The penalties associated with mail and wire fraud depend largely on the value of the property the defendant attempted to obtain or did obtain, the number of victims the defendant targeted and the defendant’s criminal history. That said, because of the nature of the crime, most mail and wire fraud convictions result in long prison times, hefty fines and additional penalties. Below is a brief overview of what is at stake if you fail to build a strong defense:
Fines: A single conviction of either type of crime can result in a fine of up to $500,000, or $1 million if the scam involved federal disaster relief or a financial institution.
Jail Time: Mail and wire fraud convictions can result in 20-30 years of prison time, depending on the target.
Restitution: If you were successful in your attempt to deceive someone or something out of property, the judge may order you to pay restitution to the victim.
Probation: If the amount you swindled or attempted to swindle was minimal, if you targeted few victims and if you have a clear criminal history, the judge may order one to three years of probation in lieu of prison time.
Your Best Defense Against Mail and Wire Fraud Charges
The most common defenses against mail and wire fraud charges are “Good Faith” and “Puffery.” The Good Faith defense involves proving that you sent a communication in good faith and with zero intent to defraud or deceive someone. The Puffery defense entails showing that you used flattery, opinionated statements or exaggeration to persuade someone to act in a certain way, but that you did not outright lie.