Federal fraud mail and wire fraud laws apply when a U.S. communication service, such as the phone and money-wiring system or the postal service, has been used to deceive people. Telemarketing fraud is one example. Although few telemarketing companies are illegal, some have been convicted of mail/wire fraud for asking people to send money by mail or wire to companies that are dishonest about what their products or services are worth. Mail and wire fraud laws are often used to bring people and companies to court because it’s easier to prove mail/wire fraud than other crimes.

When federal mail and wire fraud laws can be used

Federal mail and fraud laws are used in a variety of cases, such as bank, healthcare, mortgage, pension, and securities fraud. Although more specific laws may also apply in some cases, prosecutors use mail and wire fraud laws in part because the courts are very familiar with them. These laws can be used to charge fraud if (1) a federal service was used, and (2) there was a plan to defraud. According to these requirements, anyone who uses a letter, text message, email, or phone call to further a plan that may involve fraud can be charged witih mail or wire fraud.

Penalties for violating federal mail and wire fraud laws

If the mail and/or wire fraud charges do not involve federal securities or banks, each violation can mean 5 years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. In most cases, federal prosecutors will include far more than just one mail or wire fraud charge. Also, if the fraud plan harmed certain victims, such as banking institutions, Congress allows for far greater punishments. Federal sentencing law is very complex, and only federal judges (not juries) decide what punishment to give in each case.

Preventing or reducing mail/wire fraud accusations and convictions

Mail and wire fraud laws can be used for almost any everyday situation involving communication or planning. Federal mail and wire fraud laws also require proof of bad intentions, so the more you can prove that you are not trying to defraud anyone, the less likely you are to be accused or convicted of mail or wire fraud.

  • Be very careful. Anything you say on the phone and write in emails, letters, and/or text messages can be used against you in a mail or wire fraud case.
  • Get advice. Ask a qualified attorney about your situation. An attorney can evaluate it and provide advice under the protections of the attorney-client privilege.

  • Follow the advice. Do not try to minimize the degree or existence of any fraud. Instead, give as much information about the situation as you can in a way that it is clear and reasonable.

  • Document everything. Prove that you have asked for advice and are following it by writing everything down and keeping any emails or recorded phone calls related to these conversations.

Additional resources:

United States Attorney's Manual and Criminal Resource Manual

Federal Appellate Court guidelines for proof required to convict of mail and wire fraud