Mail and wire fraud — It’s a common phrase in the world of white collar crime allegations, but what does it really mean? Is the “mail” part referring to the theft of letters from post office boxes? And what about the “wire” part? What do wires have to do with anything?

Let’s take a moment to clear up some of the confusion.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, mail fraud has two distinct elements:

  • Creating a plan to defraud another party
  • Using the mail system to carry out that plan

Wire fraud is essentially the same thing as mail fraud except that instead of using the mail system to carry out the scheme, you use the telephone or another type of electronic communication. Sending an email, using instant messaging on your computer or sending a text can all count as types of “interstate wire communication.”

Here is one example: The FBI reports that a St. Louis man was arrested in July and pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud in Missouri. He used both the mail service and electronic communications to run a loan fraud scheme and steal more than $1 million from lenders.

Compared to homicide and kidnapping, mail and wire fraud may not seem like very serious crimes. However, they do carry very significant penalties. If you believe that you or a loved one may be under investigation for such an offense, it is important to seek legal counsel from an experienced criminal defense lawyer without delay.