Fraud is a term that refers to deception with the intended result being personal or financial gain. Fraud can include false statements or misrepresentations to gain something of value.
Both criminal and civil laws cover fraud, but only government prosecutors can file criminal charges. However, victims of fraud can file civil suits. A type of fraud is wire fraud, a federal offense in which both state and federal charges can apply.
Wire fraud and mail fraud often go hand-in-hand, and those who face charges for one will often face charges for the other. However, despite often getting lumped together, wire fraud and mail fraud are two separate crimes that have their own sentencing and potential repercussions.
What is wire fraud, exactly? What sets it apart from mail fraud, and what are the differences in potential penalties that an individual may face?
Mail vs. Wire Fraud
The Department of Justice examines wire fraud and the repercussions that may result from a conviction. First, they note that wire fraud actually parallels mail fraud in terms of elements. The primary difference involves the method with which the fraud ends up carried out.
Mail fraud, as the name implies, makes use of the U.S. postal system to carry out fraudulent schemes. This can include packages, letters, postcards and more. On the other hand, wire fraud must use an interstate phone call or the use of electronic communication.
Wire fraud is a criminal offense usually investigated by the FBI. The wire fraud statute, 18 U.S. Code 1343, applies to those who attempt to deceive or defraud to gain money or property by transmitting through wire, radio or television communication.
Transmissions can include any of the following:
Elements of Wire Fraud
Wire fraud takes place over or involves electronic communications such as telephone calls, faxes, internet or television. Wire fraud, as defined by the federal government, includes four elements:
- A person participated in a scheme to defraud someone out of money or property.
- A person used the scheme with intent to defraud.
- It was reasonably evident that the person would use wire communications.
- The person used interstate wire communications.
Those charged and found guilty of wire fraud could face the following penalties:
- Fines of $250,000 for individuals
- Fines of $500,000 for organizations
- Not more than 20 years’ imprisonment
Penalties increase if a person uses wire fraud relating to a presidentially declared major disaster. Imprisonment can increase to 30 years, and fines can go up to as much as a million dollars.
Each time a person uses a wire transmission to defraud an individual, the federal government separates the count. If a person were to make several phone calls and use emails for the same scheme, there may be a count for each use. Each count increases prison time and fines.