Both mail and wire fraud can leave a victim financially devastated. And while these two terms are closely related to one another, they are not the same thing.
These are two of the most common crimes that are charged by federal prosecutors. Both kinds of fraud require a scheme to defraud a person of property or money. To put it another way, the criminal must have used a means of deceit or deception to defraud the victim.
So what are the specifics of these two kinds of crimes? And how do they differ from one another?
We’re glad you asked. Keep on reading and we will walk you through everything that you’re going to want to know!
What Is Mail Fraud?
When a person commits mail fraud, they attempt to defraud someone and use the mail to further their crime.
First off, the perpetrator must try to deprive a person of money or property through deception. They don’t necessarily need to lie in order to deceive someone.
Also, the property can be physical, like a house or money, or it can be intangible, like intellectual property or information.
The goal of the scheme must be to defraud someone. If a person believes that they are being honest even though their statements are incorrect, they are not technically committing mail fraud.
Lastly, they need to use the mail to commit their crime. If a part of the crime involves using the mail, then it can be classified as mail fraud.
The mail component doesn’t need to be essential to the crime. Even if they don’t mail fake documents or commit fraud specifically in mailed letters, they can still be convicted of mail fraud.
The mail only needs to be related to an essential element.
Federal prosecutes love to go after people with claims of mail fraud because it is a simple statute with serious penalties. Bernie Madoff is one of several high-profile fraudsters who were accused of mail fraud.
What Is Wire Fraud?
Wire fraud is a kind of crime that involves using the internet or some type of telecommunications. These can include social media messaging, a text, an email, a fax message, a phone call, or some other form.
Wire fraud is punishable by fines and/or prison.
In order to commit wire fraud, a person must intentionally and voluntarily attempt to defraud a person out of money. The criminal must also use interstate wire communications as part of the scheme.
This is a federal crime that can carry up to twenty years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Sometimes, the fine can be up to one million dollars.
In order to be convicted of wire fraud, you don’t need to actually defraud someone or to have personally sent fraudulent communication. It’s enough to prove that there was intent to defraud using communications.
Example of Wire Fraud
For a long time, criminals would make hundreds of phone calls as they would try to defraud gullible retirees or other victims. These days, fraudsters usually post fake content on the internet and then wait to see who will bite.
One of the most common wire fraud schemes is the Nigerian prince scam. This is when a criminal sends an email claiming that they are a Nigerian prince who is exiled and can’t access their bank account. He will then ask the target to hold his money in return for a hefty profit.
The goal is to get the target’s bank account information and then steal their money before they realize what’s going on. While this is an old and well-known scam, many Americans continue to fall for it.
You should never wire money to a stranger, no matter what, so that you can successfully avoid wire fraud.
Difference Between Mail and Wire Fraud
The main difference between wire and mail fraud has to do with the “jurisdictional hook” that allows the government to prosecute these acts as federal crimes. In order to be considered mail fraud, the criminal needs to use USPS or a commercial or private interstate carrier to further the fraud scheme.
To contrast this, the wire fraud laws require the use of an interstate wire transmission.
These different jurisdictional hooks reflect the different areas of constitutional authority that let the government enact the wire and mail fraud laws. The mail fraud law is a result of the government’s power to establish post roads and post offices under the Postal Clause.
The wire fraud law, on the other hand, is able to exist thanks to the government’s powers under the Commerce Clause.
This is a very important difference. The mail fraud statute can be employed whenever mail is used, even if the entire crime takes place in one state. When it comes to prosecuting wire fraud, then there must be an interstate wire transmission. This is because the federal government can only regulate interstate commerce.
Wire fraud needs to cross state lines in order to violate the wire fraud statute.
The Importance of Knowing the Difference Between Mail and Wire Fraud
Hopefully, after reading the above article, you now have a better idea of what the differences are between mail and wire fraud. As we can see, both statutes carry significant penalties and can wreak a lot of financial devastation. By understanding how they compare and contrast, you can better protect yourself from falling victim to these schemes.
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