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Mail fraud and bank fraud: old terms apply in new electronic era

Mail fraud and wire fraud are two of the crimes that are often included under the umbrella term "white-collar crime."

A current St. Louis area case involves both of these charges. Authorities have charged two owners of an insurance company with mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud senior citizens.

The charges accuse the two men of soliciting elderly people to invest in several different types of financial instruments, including stocks and annuities from life insurance policies, as well as real estate. In practice, however, the men allegedly used the funds for their own purposes and operated a Pyramid scheme.

The amount of money involved was about $3 million, authorities say. One of the men facing charges is from St. Louis County. The other is from Kansas City.

Both mail fraud and wire fraud have been federal crimes since the late 19th century. Back then, of course, communications options were much more limited than in today's free-wheeling digital arena. Mail meant the U.S. mail; it certainly did not mean e-mail.

And the "wire" in wire fraud originally referred to telegraph wires. Many people who take today's wireless communications for granted probably do not even stop to recognize the origins of the term.

And yet, even as communications options have grown, mail fraud and wire fraud remain staples of many white-collar prosecutions. In practice, "wire fraud," for all its historical links to the telegraph, is now a short-hand term that includes electronic communications of many types.

In the case of the two insurance company owners, it remains to be seen what evidence prosecutors will present to try to prove the mail and wire fraud charges.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Pair at St. Louis insurance company indicted for diverting customer funds," Paul Hampel, August 21, 2013

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