Federal Criminal Offenses of Mail and Wire Fraud
In the movie The Firm, Tom Cruise’s character helps the FBI get the bad guys in his law firm. But not by exposing their more serious offenses. Instead, he helps the FBI prove the bad guys committed mail fraud. Today, charges of mail fraud and wire fraud are often used by prosecutors in the federal courts.
Mail Fraud vs. Wire Fraud
Both wire and mail fraud involve the perpetrator attempting to defraud someone. Usually, the fraud scheme is for financial gain. Whether it is charged as wire or mail fraud generally depends on the system used to commit such crimes.
Specifically, if someone uses the mail to commit fraud, this would be mail fraud. This would also include any other courier service, such as FedEx or UPS.
However, if a perpetrator uses an interstate communication network, this would be wire fraud. In essence, it covers all forms of telecommunication. This crime can be charged for frauds committed via phone, internet, television, and radio.
Examples of Wire and Mail Fraud
Examples of wire fraud can include any of the following:
- Internet sales where someone fails to abide by the terms of the sale
- Telephone scams, such as those indicating a person owed an IRS debt
- Fake websites which collect personal data or financial information
- Romance scams through dating sites or social media
Mail fraud can sometimes be even more common. Some examples include:
- Brokerage firms sending falsified investment documents by mail
- Individuals sending tax returns by mail which contain false information
- Sending a falsified college application by mail, such as occurred in the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal
Wire Fraud in the News
Prosecutors have been using the wire fraud statute to prosecute offenses committed relating to cryptocurrency. Specifically, this digital currency is being stolen and some have lost thousands of dollars as a result. The US Department of Justice has been using this offense to charge people committing scams relating to cryptocurrency, NFTs (non-fungible tokens), and other digital commodities.
- 18 U.S.C. § 1341, Frauds and swindles. Available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1341 (last accessed Aug. 23, 2022).
- 18 U.S.C. § 1343, Fraud by wire, radio, or television. Available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1343 (last accessed Aug. 23, 2022).
- Ian McGinley, “Wire fraud: the most powerful law in crypto right now,” Title (Aug. 23, 2022). Available at: https://www.reuters.com/legal/legalindustry/wire-fraud-most-powerful-law-crypto-right-now-2022-08-23/ (last accessed Aug. 23, 2022).
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