what is mail fraud?

What Is Mail Fraud? Federal Mail & Wire Fraud

Mail fraud has a broad application, which makes it a common federal charge to pursue. But, what is mail fraud? 

Mail fraud is when someone uses the federal mail system to attempt a fraudulent scheme or scam. That might not sound like much, but it carries daunting fines and prison time. That’s why it’s important to understand what constitutes mail fraud and wire fraud. 

Moreover, if you find yourself facing charges, it is crucial for you to seek the help of an experienced criminal attorney. 

Three Aspects of the Crime of Mail Fraud

Mail and wire fraud are a federal prosecutor’s bread and butter. There are three reasons you may find yourself facing such charges.

Scheme to Defraud

A scheme to defraud someone means you deprive someone of property through dishonest means. However, the scheme does not necessarily involve an affirmative lie or misrepresentation. 

The target can be either tangible property (literal property, money, etc.) or intangible property (information, intellectual property, etc.). 

Intent to Defraud

The person charged intends to be deceitful in some capacity. Specifically, you cannot commit this crime if you believe that your actions or statements are honest. That means that good faith is a potential defense. 

Use of the Mails in Furtherance of the Scheme 

This refers to the fact that mail in some form was a part of the scheme. It does not require that the mail is essential to the scheme, though. For instance, you do not have to mail a false representation or fraudulent document. 

If the mail system is incidental to an essential part of the scheme, that’s enough for the prosecution to press charges. Moreover, it’s enough for a defendant to cause a mailing without ever depositing something in the mail. 

Examples of Mail Fraud Schemes

There are a few common examples of schemes: 

  • Ponzi schemes
  • Pyramid schemes
  • Mail that appears government-issued, such as a presidential declaration
  • Propaganda around sweepstakes and lotteries

Typically, the fraudulent schemes appear useful or helpful in some way. However, they involve fake charities, promises to help with poor credit, or low-cost health insurance. Other common schemes include get-rich-quick scams, such as investment opportunities.

Consequences of Mail Fraud Charges

While many believe this sort of fraud to be a harmless white-collar crime, it is a federal offense that carries severe consequences. To many, it seems like a mere annoyance or a lesson for some poor individual to learn. However, there are individuals and federal prosecutors who disagree. 

When convicted of mail fraud, you owe, at minimum, a steep fine. Additionally, you face up to 20 years in prison. In order to avoid the most severe penalties, you need an experienced attorney.

Fighting Federal Mail Charges

So, “what is mail fraud” is a relatively simple question to answer. However, the broad nature of these charges means you might find yourself facing charges unexpectedly. If you do, it’s crucial to work with an experienced federal defense attorney.