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
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming