Wire fraud is a federal crime that refers to any scheme to defraud another person or party through electronic communication. This can include telemarketing fraud, internet scams, phishing, or schemes using television and radio to commit fraud, and it is often prosecuted alongside underlying crimes. Whether you find yourself a victim of wire fraud or accused of the crime and in need of a solid wire fraud defense, it’s critical to understand what these charges entail.
Elements of Wire Fraud
By definition, wire fraud is any fraud carried out through pictures, sounds, writings, signs, or signals that are transmitted through any form of wire. This includes television, radio, telephone, internet, or fax. In order to prove that wire fraud has occurred, the prosecutor must be able to prove that a number of factors are present. While these may vary from federal circuit court to court, there are basic principles that can be summarized as such:
- A scheme to commit fraud
- Specific intent to commit fraud
- Use of wire, radio, or television communication to further that scheme
Many of these schemes involve defrauding businesses like insurance companies, banks, or agencies like the IRS. However, they can also target individual’s personal information or money. Common examples may be a telemarketing scheme or phishing scam. The classic example is the email from a “Nigerian prince” who has fallen victim to terrible circumstances and needs you to loan him money until he can pay you back. This is used to secure personal financial information and cash. While this seems obvious to many people, it is common for others to fall for schemes like this and lose their money or safety.
Penalties for Wire Fraud
Federal charges are applied to each individual instance of wire fraud that occurs. For example, if the “Nigerian prince” sends ten people emails, then ten separate acts of wire fraud were committed. Wire fraud is a federal crime, though it may be committed in conjunction with state crimes. Penalties for wire fraud include:
- Up to 20 years in federal prison
- Up to $250,000 in fines for an individual
- Up to $500,000 in fines for an organization
If the wire fraud scheme involves federal financial situations such as a declared disaster, penalties may be raised to 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines.
Wire fraud is often committed as a part of a larger group of crimes, some of which may be state-level crimes. But because wire fraud is a federal crime, these charges will be included in the federal case. Below are some of the commonly associated crimes.
Mail Fraud: Wire fraud was created as an extension of existing mail fraud laws to other forms of communication. The main difference is the medium used to commit fraud, but often multiple forms are used, meaning both charges are applied.
Securities Fraud: Securities fraud covers a range of behavior, including fraud surrounding investment securities and commodities. If wire fraud concerns securities, these can be charged in conjunction.
Internet Fraud: Fraud carried out through the internet is often called “cybercrime” and may include hacking or phishing to unlawfully obtain data. Many of these crimes fall under the category of wire fraud, but any that don’t can be treated separately as internet fraud.
Attempt or Conspiracy: Even if your scheme is unsuccessful, attempting or conspiring to commit wire fraud is subject to the same federal penalties as wire fraud that is carried out successfully.
Defense in Wire Fraud Cases
If you have been charged with wire fraud, you are entitled to a lawyer and to make your case in court. The prosecutor will have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to move forward with sentencing. Depending on the specifics of your situation, you may be able to use a variety of defense strategies.
Lack of Intent: Wire fraud involves the willful and knowing element of fraud, so if it can be shown that you did not mean to commit the fraud, you cannot be convicted.
Mistake of Fact: Often, fraud cases rest on the communication of false or misleading information. However, if you believed it to be true, this is not considered fraud.
Puffery: Puffery is exaggeration or opinionated statements used in order to make a sale. These statements are not considered fraud.
Making any case in court will require the expertise of a defense attorney.