The federal government has stepped up its investigation and enforcement of fraud cases in recent years.
Two of the most common types of fraud prosecuted by the federal government are mail fraud and wire fraud.
These are two separate crimes, but they can sometimes both be charged in the same case. What are they, and how are they different?
Mail and Wire Fraud: The Basics
The federal crime of mail fraud prohibits the use of the U.S. Postal Service or any private or commercial interstate carrier (such as UPS or FedEx) to further a scheme to defraud.
Wire fraud is similar, but it involves cases where electronic communications are used to further the fraudulent scheme. Both offenses are serious crimes that can carry significant prison time and fines if convicted.
What is Mail Fraud?
The key element of mail fraud is that the defendant must have used the mail in furtherance of the scheme, meaning that the mailing must be an essential part of the scheme and not just incidental to it.
For example, if someone is running a Ponzi scheme and uses the mail to send out marketing materials or to solicit investments, that would be mail fraud.
What is Wire Fraud?
Wire fraud is a federal offense that occurs when someone uses electronic communications to further a fraudulent scheme.
Thinking back to the Ponzi scheme example we mentioned above, if instead of federal mail, someone uses email to send out marketing materials or to solicit investments, that would be wire fraud. As well, if they wire money to investors as part of the scheme, that would also be wire fraud.
How are Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud Similar?
Mail fraud and wire fraud are similar in many ways. Both offenses are federal crimes that carry significant prison time and fines if convicted.
Mail fraud and wire fraud can sometimes be charged in the same case. For example, in March 2019, actress Lori Laughlin and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, were charged with mail and wire fraud in connection with a college admissions scandal.
Prosecutors alleged that the couple had paid $500,000 to get their two daughters into the prestigious USC crew team, even though they did not participate in the sport.
They had allegedly emailed doctored photos of their daughters participating in crew (wire fraud) and used the mail system to submit their daughters’ application materials to USC (mail fraud).
Differences Between Mail Fraud and Wire Fraud
The key difference between mail fraud and wire fraud is the type of communication that is used to further the fraudulent scheme. Mail fraud uses the U.S. Postal Service or any private or commercial interstate carrier, while wire fraud uses electronic communications.
Another difference between mail fraud and wire fraud is the potential penalty if convicted. Mail fraud is typically punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while wire fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
If you are under investigation for or have been charged with mail fraud or wire fraud, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.
Facing Charges for Mail or Wire Fraud? Find Experienced Defense For Your Case
Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Robert M. Helfend has experience defending clients against federal mail and wire fraud charges and will fight to get the best possible outcome in your case. Contact us today for a free consultation – 800-834-6434.