Mail Fraud Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Mail fraud is defined by US law as any type of scheme involving fraud that intentionally deprives others of property or communications through the mail. It also includes wire communication, and is a federal crime that has been on the books since 1872. There have been many schemes and frauds over the years, though the specifics have changed as time has gone by. Mail fraud usually involves the United States Postal Services, but today carriers like UPS or FedEx are often involved in the crime as well. No matter the specifics, it is a federal crime and one that carries very harsh penalties if convicted.

Mail Fraud Laws

Mail fraud is usually committed when a suspect mails out something with the intent of defrauding another person. While some instances of mail fraud are variations on this, it usually involves a deceptive letter that encourages or tricks another into sending money to them.

Mail fraud laws put forth several requirements that must be met in order for criminal charges to be filed. One is that the perpetrator must actively be trying to defraud someone, not deceive them. The difference is that in cases of fraud, the sender is attempting to get something for nothing. In ‘deception’, a legitimate service or product is offered, but the information on the mailing is usually deceptive or misleading in some way. It also must be an intentionally committed case of fraud. If intent isn’t present, mail fraud won’t be a charge that can be levied against someone.

Mail Fraud Crimes and Charges

Mail fraud can cover a lot of different things, and in general any situation where mail of any form has been used to attempt to defraud a person will fall under its definition. It’s worth noting that while the use of a telephone alone won’t mean that fraud has been committed, there are instances where using wire transfers or even computer communication could fall under the classification of mail fraud.

Mail fraud can also involve a wide range of other frauds including:

  • Sweepstakes fraud
  • Lottery fraud
  • Telemarketing fraud
  • Financial fraud
  • Employment fraud
  • And more

In these cases, various other charges could be filed along with mail fraud, and state or local penalties may apply alongside federal charges. Mail fraud must involve mailings that have crossed state lines, as well.

  • In cases of mail fraud, those found to be guilty will face fines and up to 20 years in prison.
  • Mail fraud involving states of emergency or disaster or that affect a financial institution can come with fines of up to 1 million dollars, up to 30 years in prison, or a combination of the two.
  • Mail fraud using wire transfers, radio, or television communication can bring fines and sentences of up to 20 years. If the fraud affects a financial institution, fines can reach 1 million dollars and prison time could reach 30 years or more.

Mail Fraud Punishment

As mentioned above, the fines and prison sentences for mail fraud can be very severe. Since mail fraud is a federal crime, it’s taken very seriously by the government.

Fines can reach $1,000,000 in some cases, and prison sentences can reach 20 years – 30 years in cases where financial institutions were affected. Additionally, state law could bring more penalties depending upon the situation. Things like the nature of the fraud, the victim, and the criminal history of the suspect can all have an influence on the final punishment.

Mail Fraud Sentencing Guidelines

As with most crimes, mail fraud is sentenced based on a point system. The beginning level of offense is 6, unless a prior conviction exists. In these cases the base offense level is a 7. From this point, the amount of money victims lost during the fraud will determine how many more points are applied to the level. For instance, fraud that took a total of between 5 and 10 thousand dollars will add a point value of 2, while instances where $7,000,000 or more were taken will add 20. Other factors like the number of victims, the type of institutions affected, and more will all influence sentencing.

Mail Fraud Statute of Limitations

In general, the statute of limitations for mail fraud or wire fraud is 5 years, after which the offender can’t be tried. However, cases that affect a financial institution will carry a statute of 10 years.

Mail Fraud Cases

Most mail fraud cases aren’t given much attention by the press – at least when compared to kidnapping or other crimes. Recent well-known cases include the Santa Ana trial of Dr. Sergio Stone, who was charged with mail fraud among many other things for a scheme involving the transplant of human eggs into women. It’s a shining example of how the modern world is still ripe with mail fraud problems.

Mail Fraud Laws by State

Mail or postal fraud is a serious crime that is almost exclusively prosecuted at the federal level, although some states do also criminalize certain acts involved in the fraud. To be convicted of mail fraud, someone must have used the United States Postal Service or any private mail carrier in order to send/receive anything that is related to a fraud scheme. That said, the fraud does not have to be carried out entirely through the mail or postal service. Rather, because the postal service was involved, the U.S. Department of Justice is allowed to take on the prosecution and sentencing of those involved in the crime.

AlabamaHawaiiMassachusettsNew MexicoSouth Dakota
AlaskaIdahoMichiganNew YorkTennessee
ArizonaIllinoisMinnesotaNorth CarolinaTexas
ArkansasIndianaMississippiNorth DakotaUtah
CaliforniaIowaMissouriOhioVermont
ColoradoKansasMontanaOklahomaVirginia
ConnecticutKentuckyNebraskaOregonWashington
DelawareLouisianaNevadaPennsylvaniaWest Virginia
FloridaMaineNew HampshireRhode IslandWisconsin
GeorgiaMarylandNew JerseySouth CarolinaWyoming

Alabama

In Alabama, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Alaska

In Alaska, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Arizona

In Arizona, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Arkansas

Under 2010 Arkansas Code, Title 5 – Criminal Offenses, Subtitle 4 – Offenses Against Property, Chapter 36 – Theft, Subchapter 1 – General Provisions, Section 5-36-103 – Theft of property, punishment for mail fraud is as follows:

  • Value $2,500 or higher – Class B felony. Five to 20 years in prison, fine of up to $15,000.
  • Value is $500 up to less than $2,500 – Class C felony. Three to ten years in prison, fine of up to $10,000.
  • Value below $500 and obtained during a criminal episode – Class D felony. Up to six years in prison, fine of up to $10,000.
  • Value below $500 – Class A misdemeanor. Up to one year in jail, fine of up to $2,500.

California

In California, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Colorado

Under:

  • 2016 Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 18 – Criminal Code, Article 17 – Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, Section 18-17-103. Definitions
  • 2016 Colorado Revised Statutes, Title 18 – Criminal Code, Article 9 – Offenses Against Public Peace, Order, and Decency, Part 3 – Offenses Involving Communications, Section 18-9-309. Telecommunications crime

Mail fraud is a:

  • Class 3 misdemeanor for first offense. Between $50 fine and six months and jail and/or $750 fine.
  • Class 6 felony for second offense within five years. 12 to 18 months imprisonment, fine between $1,000 and $100,000.
  • Class 4 felony if cloning device is used. Two to six years imprisonment, fine between $2,000 and $500,000.
  • Class 4 felony for aiding and abetting. Two to six years imprisonment, fine between $2,000 and $500,000.

Connecticut

In Connecticut, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Delaware

Under TITLE 11, Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Delaware Criminal Code, CHAPTER 5. SPECIFIC OFFENSES, Subchapter III. Offenses Involving Property, Section 850 Use, possession, manufacture, distribution and sale of unlawful telecommunication and access devices, mail fraud is:

  • A class E felony for second offenses (in state and out of state) or for those having used between 10 and 50 telecommunication devices. Up to five years imprisonment.
  • A class D felony for third or subsequent offenses (in state and out of state) or for those having used more than 50 telecommunication devices. Up to eight years imprisonment.

Those convicted also have to pay fines and restitution and may face civil charges.

Florida

Under the 2017 Florida Statutes, Title XLVI, CRIMES, Chapter 817, FRAUDULENT PRACTICES 817.034 Florida Communications Fraud Act, those engaging in a scheme for obtaining money with:

  • Value above $50,000 – 1st degree felony. Up to 30 years in state prison, fine of up to $10,000.
  • Value between $20,000 and $50,000 – 2nd degree felony. Up to 15 years in state prison, fine of up to $10,000.
  • Value less than $20,000 – 3rd degree felony. Up to five years in state prison, fine of up to $5,000.

And under the 2017 Florida Statutes, Title XLVI, CRIMES, Chapter 817, FRAUDULENT PRACTICES 817.034 Florida Communications Fraud Act, those engaging in a scheme and communicate with others to obtain it:

  • Value is $300 or higher – 3rd degree felony. Up to five years in state prison, fine of up to $5,000
  • Value below $300 – 1st degree misdemeanor. Up to one year in jail, fine of $1,000.

Florida has a three strike law for repeat offenders.

Georgia

In Georgia, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Hawaii

In Hawaii, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Idaho

Under:

  • TITLE 18, CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS, CHAPTER 67, COMMUNICATIONS SECURITY, 18-6702. Interception and disclosure of wire, electronic or oral communications prohibited.
  • TITLE 18, CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS, CHAPTER 36, FORGERY AND COUNTERFEITING, 18-3601. Forgery defined.
  • TITLE 18, CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS, CHAPTER 31, FALSE PRETENSES, CHEATS AND MISREPRESENTATIONS, 18-3124. Fraudulent use of a financial transaction card or number.
  • TITLE 18, CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS, CHAPTER 31, FALSE PRETENSES, CHEATS AND MISREPRESENTATIONS, 18-3128. Penalty for violation.

Mail fraud is class as a:

  • Misdemeanor if value is $300 or less. Fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in county jail.
  • Felony for value above $300. Fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to five years in state prison.

Illinois

Under (720 ILCS 5/17-24) Sec. 17-24, mail fraud is a class 3 felony punishable by two to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to $25,000.

Indiana

Under:

  • Indiana Code – Title 35 – Article 43 – Chapter 5 – Forgery, Fraud, and Other Deceptions, 35-43-5-1. Definitions
  • Indiana Code – Title 35 – Article 43 – Chapter 5 – Forgery, Fraud, and Other Deceptions, 35-43-5-4. Deception

Mail fraud is:

  • A level 6 felony if a government entity, a disadvantaged business, or a woman-owned enterprise was defrauded. Six months to two and a half years imprisonment, advisory sentence of one year.
  • A class A misdemeanor if no financial loss occurred through any of the above. Up to one year in jail and/or fine of up to $5,000.

Iowa

In Iowa, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Kansas

Under 2012 Statute, Article 59. – CRIMES AFFECTING GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONS, 21-5923. Unlawful disclosure of authorized interception of wire, oral or electronic communications is a severity level 10, nonperson felony. Kansas uses a grid system for sentencing, which means the circumstances of the crime, the prior history of the offender, and the value of the crime are all taken into consideration when determining the sentence.

Kentucky

Under Kentucky Revised Statutes Title XL. Crimes and Punishments Section 434.690. Receiving goods, services, etc., obtained by fraud; presumption as to possession of transportation tickets fraudulently obtained:

  • Value below $500 over a six month period. Class A misdemeanor. Up to 12 months in jail. Fines.
  • Value between $500 and $10,000. Class D felony. One to five years’ imprisonment. Fines.
  • Value above $10,000. Class C felony. Five to 10 years imprisonment. Fines.

Louisiana

Under 2011 Louisiana Laws, Revised Statutes, TITLE 14 – Criminal law, RS 14:73.5 – Computer fraud is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to five years imprisonment with or without hard labor.

Maine

In Maine, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Maryland

In Maryland, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Michigan

Under THE MICHIGAN PENAL CODE (EXCERPT),  Act 328 of 1931, 750.218 False pretenses with intent to defraud; violation; penalty; enhanced sentence based on prior convictions; “false pretense” defined, mail fraud is:

  • A misdemeanor. Up to one year imprisonment and/or fine of up to $2,000 or three times the value, whichever is greater for fraud valued between $200 and $1,000.
  • A felony. Up to five years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $10,000 or three times the value, whichever is greater for fraud valued between $1,000 and $20,000.
  • A felony. Up to 15 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $15,000 or three times the value, whichever is greater for fraud valued between $20,000 and $50,000.
  • A felony. Up to 15 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $25,000 or three times the value, whichever is greater for fraud between $50,000 and $100,000.
  • A felony. Up to 20 years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $35,000 or three times the value, whichever is greater for fraud above $100,000.

Enhanced sentences may be imposed for repeat offenders.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Mississippi

Under 2013 Mississippi Code, Title 97 – CRIMES, Chapter 19 – FALSE PRETENSES AND CHEATS, Section 97-19-83 – Fraud by mail or other means of communication, someone convicted of mail fraud may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $10,000 and/or sent to prison for up to five years.

Missouri

In Missouri, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Montana

In Montana, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Nebraska

In Nebraska, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Nevada

In Nevada, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

New Mexico

Under 2011 New Mexico Statutes, Chapter 30: Criminal Offenses, Article 16: Larceny, 30-16-1 through 30-16-48, Section 30-16-6: Fraud.

  • Value below $250. Petty misdemeanor. Up to one 30 days in jail and/or fine of up to $500
  • Value between $250 and $500. Misdemeanor. Up to one year in jail and/or fine of up to $1,000
  • Value between $500 and $2,500. Fourth degree felony. Up to 18 months in prison and/or fine of up to $5,000
  • Value between $2,500 and $20,000. Third degree felony. Up to three years in prison and/or fine of up to $5,000
  • Value above $20,000. Second degree felony. Up to nine years in prison and/or fine of up to $10,000

New York

In New York, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

North Dakota

In North Dakota, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Ohio

Under Ohio Revised Code – Title 29 CRIMES – PROCEDURE – Chapter 2913: THEFT AND FRAUD, 2913.05 Telecommunications fraud.

  • Value below $1,000. Fifth degree felony. Six to 12 months imprisonment, fine  of up to $2,500
  • Value between $1,000 and $7,500. Fourth degree felony. Six to 18 months imprisonment, fine of up to $5,000
  • Value between $7,500 and $150,000. Third degree felony. One to five years imprisonment, fine of up to $10,000.
  • Value between $150,000 and $1 million. Second degree felony. Two to eight years imprisonment, fine of up to $15,000
  • Value above $1 million. First degree felony. Three to 10 years imprisonment, fine of up to $20,000

Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Oregon

In Oregon, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, mail fraud is a federal crime only. A suggestion was made for adding Section 16-13-490 so as to create the offenses of mail fraud and mail fraud and to provide penalties for the offenses, but that bill was not been passed.

South Dakota

In South Dakota, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Tennessee

In Tennessee, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Texas

In Texas, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Utah

Under Utah Code, Title 76 Utah Criminal Code, Chapter 10 Offenses Against Public Health, Safety, Welfare, and Morals, Part 18 Communications Fraud and Misrepresentation, Section 1801 Communications fraud – Elements – Penalties:

  • Value below $500. Class B misdemeanor. Up to six months in jail, fine of up to $1,000
  • Value between $500 and $1,500. Class A misdemeanor. Up to one year in jail, fine of up to $2,500
  • Value between $1,500 and $5,000. Third degree felony. Up to five years imprisonment, fine of up to $5,000
  • Value above $5,000. Second degree felony. Up to 15 years imprisonment, fine of up to $10,000

Vermont

In Vermont, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Virginia

In Virginia, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Washington

In Washington, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

West Virginia

In West Virginia, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Wisconsin

Under 943.90 Mail fraud against a financial institution, whoever transmits or causes to be transmitted electrically, electromagnetically, or by light any signal, writing, image, sound, or data for the purpose of committing a financial crime is guilty of a Class H felony, punishable by up to six years imprisonment and/or fine of up to $10,000.

Wyoming

In Wyoming, mail fraud is a federal crime only.

Mail Fraud Quick Links and References