Understanding Mail and Wire Fraud

Have you ever been offered unthinkable sums of money from a Nigerian prince? This online scam famously made its way through millions of email inboxes and requested bank account information in exchange for a princely reward. The email turned out to be a royal hoax, as scammers would use the information to steal money from gullible readers. While you may not intend for your company’s next marketing campaign to resemble any such thing, it’s important to understand mail and wire fraud and its many forms.

The term “mail and wire fraud” describes a communication made via mail or wire, with an intent to defraud someone out of money or assets. Mail fraud specifically refers to scams carried out through US mail or a private mail carrier, while wire fraud may involve the use of a phone, fax, email, or other electronic communication platforms.

Individuals, businesses, the government, and financial institutions can all be victims of such fraud. Whether done by mail or by wire, these are both very serious federal crimes. The law describes the two using slightly different language to establish guilt, however generally speaking, the defendant must create or take part in the fraudulent scheme, have intent to defraud others out of money with the scheme, and use mail or wire communications to carry out the scheme.

Federal agencies like the FBI and IRS can initiate mail fraud investigations, but a suspected case of mail fraud is typically prosecuted by the Department of Justice. For the most part, wire fraud is also prosecuted at the federal level. The penalties for a mail or wire fraud conviction include up to 20 years in prison and hefty fines. If convicted for mail or wire fraud against a financial institution, the guilty party can receive up to 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000,000.

Mail and wire fraud schemes typically use deceptive tactics with the ultimate goal of taking a person’s money. Such a fraudster will commonly ask for your personal financial information—or seek roundabout ways to access this information—to use your credit card or transfer funds from your bank account.

Mail and wire fraud can include investment scams, telemarketing fraud, Ponzi schemes, phishing, or spam. Besides the Nigerian prince, wire fraud is commonly seen in emails from senders pretending to be PayPal or online bank representatives, who will ask for passwords in order to resolve a fabricated security breach. Mail fraud may be seen in the form of donation requests for fake charities, work-at-home schemes, and schemes that charge money for services you can get for free from the government or online.

Mail and wire fraud come in many flavors, so it’s always possible to face such an accusation when your business involves mail or wire communications – as almost all do. If you are currently under investigation for mail or wire fraud, or you’ve already been charged, you should immediately contact an experienced lawyer who is well-versed in business and white collar defense. Call the attorneys at Cove Law to ensure your rights are fully protected.

Andrew Cove
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