Wire and Mail Fraud
Wire and mail fraud generally involves defrauding or attempting to defraud someone of money or property through using some form of interstate communication. As technology has changed over the years, the law has expanded to include many types of communication that were never around at the time the laws were first drafted, including email and text messages. Wire and mail fraud may seem limited, but the statutory language is broad enough that prosecutors can bring criminal charges for a wide variety of activities.
Mail fraud and wire fraud are federal criminal offenses. In order to be convicted for mail or wire fraud, the prosecutor has to show the judge or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They also have to prove the defendant met all the required elements of the crime.
The elements of mail fraud require proving that the defendant:
- Devised or intended to devise a scheme to defraud, or to obtain money or property through the use of false or fraudulent pretenses;
- With the intent to defraud, and
- Used the mail or postal service for the purpose of executing the scheme or fraud.
Mail fraud could include a number of activities, even if the use of the mail was only a minor aspect of the crime. Examples of mail fraud could include:
- Taking a credit card application out of another person's mailbox, intending to use the application to get credit in someone else's name.
- Contacting a company claiming a device under warranty is broken in order to receive money or shipment of a new product.
- Overbilling a client, or sending a bill to a company for items they never received.
- A doctor billing Medicare for services he never provided or that were medically unnecessary.
- A telemarketing scheme requesting an advance fee from consumers before they were delivered their prize.
The elements of wire fraud require proving that the defendant:
- Devised or participated in a scheme or plan to defraud, or to obtain money or property through materially false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises;
- With the intent to defraud, deceive or cheat; and
- Used or caused a wire communication to be used in carrying out the fraud.
Wire fraud includes any number of interstate communication devices. These include a mobile phone, telephone, e-mail, fax machine, text message or even through social media.
Wire fraud could include a number of activities, even if the use of the wire communication was only a minor aspect of the crime. Examples of wire fraud could include:
- Using insider information to buy stocks or securities through an online brokerage account.
- Setting up a fraudulent online auction to scam bidders.
- Selling pirated movies or music online.
- Calling people claiming to be from the sheriff's department, stating the individual has a warrant for not showing up to jury duty, and has to pay a fine.
- Hacking into another person's bank account to transfer money to another account.
An individual can still be charged with mail fraud even if they never got any money or property from the scheme. Likewise, you can be charged even if the intended victim never suffered any damages or loss. The scheme does not have to succeed for the defendant to be held criminally liable. Even playing a small role in a fraudulent scheme, or attempting to defraud can result in serious criminal charges.
Mail and Wire Fraud Investigations
Insurance fraud can be investigated by private insurance companies, local law enforcement, or federal agencies. Insurance companies have a financial incentive to prevent and limit insurance fraud. They also have a lot of experience identifying fraudulent activity, and will report fraud to law enforcement. Companies even have sophisticated computer models to identify suspicious claims with certain types of insurance.
Things like multiple insurance claims, claims for losses that come shortly after the insurance coverage goes into effect, or looking for a fast settlement may be red flags for the insurance companies. The insurance company may further audit and investigate large or suspicious claims. Insurance companies have special investigative units, and if they think there is something fraudulent about the event, they may deny the insurance claim and report their suspicion to the police.
In other cases, the public will report suspected insurance fraud to state or government agencies. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is an organization that works with law enforcement agencies to combat insurance crime, and provides a hotline to report suspected fraud. The Government Accountability Office's FraudNet program provides for phone, mail, fax or e-mail reporting of federal insurance abuse and fraud.
There are a number of state and federal law enforcement agencies that can be involved in investigating insurance fraud. These include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Department of Labor, and even the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General. Federal investigators and prosecutors usually get involved in cases involving violations of federal or interstate fraud, or where there is fraud against the government.
Mail and Wire Fraud Penalties
The penalties for mail fraud and/or wire fraud will depend greatly on the specific situation, including the value of the fraud and the intended victim. Mail and wire fraud cases often involve other criminal charges which carry additional penalties. In most cases, a conviction will include heavy fines, jail time or probation, possible civil penalties and restitution to the victims.
A conviction for mail fraud or wire fraud can lead to fines and imprisonment for up to 20 years. There are additional penalties if the fraud involved a financial institution, or was in connection with a presidentially declared emergency. In those cases, the defendant faces a fine of up to $1 million, and imprisonment for up to 30 years.
Mail and Wire Fraud Defenses
Some people can be embroiled in a mail or wire fraud investigation, even where they are sure they did nothing wrong. As soon as someone becomes aware of a fraud investigation, they should contact the federal criminal defense attorneys at Harris, Carmichael, & Ellis, PLLC, who have experience handling federal wire and mail fraud charges. Cooperation with investigators can lead to a quick resolution, or it could expose the individual to criminal charges.
Mail and wire fraud cases can involve multiple jurisdictions, numerous alleged violations, and complex federal and state law. With the possibility of jail time of 20 years or more, it is important to have the right lawyers on your side, who have experience successfully defending their clients charged with federal mail or wire fraud.