Is wire fraud a felony?
Wire fraud involves using electronic communications to scheme or defraud and is a federal offense. Being accused of wire fraud is a serious situation that requires a serious defense strategy. Lack of intent or knowledge, bad information, and other factors can lead to lessened charges or make the prosecution unable to prove its case. Our De Castroverde team invites you to learn about wire fraud, the penalties for offenses, related charges, and how to proceed if you or a loved one is facing legal issues related to wire fraud.
What Is Wire Fraud?
Wire fraud is a federal felony offense that uses any electronic communication. This crime usually involves a fraudulent scheme and communicating electronically across state lines to commit or attempt to commit fraud. Fraud is knowingly and recklessly acting to take money or something of value through misrepresentation or lying. Wire fraud encompasses using wire communications, such as email, phone, television, and radio communications, to commit or attempt to commit fraud by making false promises, representations, or pretenses. Many examples of wire fraud, primarily through new technologies, are possible. They include the following:
- Work-at-home schemes advertised online.
- False prize schemes that require payment to claim a prize.
- Telemarketing fraud by calling under pretenses, such as presenting to be from a company that doesn’t exist, to obtain money or information.
- Spam emails with fraudulent offers or seeking donations for a nonexistent charity.
- Fraudulent advertising on television or radio to sell a product that’s misrepresented or doesn’t exist.
- Phishing scams that gather unauthorized access to information by tricking people into sharing sensitive information, such as passwords, social security numbers, and credit card numbers.
- Investment scams that convince individuals to spend money on nonexistent or fraudulent investment opportunities.
Modes of conducting wire fraud run the spectrum of electronic communications and include:
- Text messaging.
- Phone calls.
- Instant messaging and other internet communications.
- Television or radio broadcasting.
What Are the Penalties for Wire Fraud?
Wire fraud has penalties under federal law. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is the agency that seeks an indictment for this offense. Penalties can include hefty fines and lengthy federal prison sentences. Federal prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the crime occurred using wire means with intent. Convictions require the prosecution to prove intent. Attempted wire fraud carries the same penalty as committing the offense. Individual states may criminalize wire fraud, but cases usually are on a federal level because the crime is generally committed across state lines or internationally.
Penalties per count can result in a 20-year prison sentence, a fine, or both. Penalties are enhanced in cases that involve a financial institution or take advantage of a natural disaster by fraudulently raising funds, reaching as high as 30 years. The penalties are per count, with additional counts possibly increasing sentences. For example, trying to defraud five people could lead to a prison sentence of 100 years.
In addition to 20 years in prison, fines of up to $250,000 may apply, as well as other measures, including paying restitution or being subject to probation. Cases involving a financial institution or those that take advantage of a natural disaster may include fines of up to $1 million.
Which Types of Offenses Are Related to Wire Fraud?
Wire fraud has related offenses at the state and federal levels, and prosecution is generally at the federal level. Wire fraud is similar to the following offenses:
- Mail fraud: Using the U.S. Postal Service to conduct a fraudulent scheme. Mail fraud is typically prosecuted at the federal level and applies to the postal service and other carriers, such as UPS or FedEx. The prosecution can levy mail fraud charges if the use of the mail or post office is a small part of the crime. In addition to the DOJ, the FBI also investigates mail fraud.
- Internet fraud: Websites that illegally collect data or money are examples of internet fraud. Phishing emails or other means used to direct people to a fraudulent site could lead to wire fraud charges.
- Securities fraud: This type of fraud includes illegally engaging in transactions with investments or securities — a charge that often leads to wire fraud if accounts are transferred unlawfully.
How Are Wire Fraud Charges Proven?
Under federal law, prosecutors must prove three elements were present in a wire fraud or attempted fraud:
- The defendant used wire communication to facilitate the fraudulent scheme.
- There is a scheme or plan to commit fraud.
- There is proof of specific intent the defendant planned to commit fraud or attempted to do so.
Charges don’t require any money exchange if the intention to pursue the transaction can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Specific intent is the intent to commit a crime while aiming for a particular outcome. Exaggerating or using flattery doesn’t show intent to commit wire fraud, but misrepresenting a product or selling a nonexistent product does.
What Should I Do if I’m Charged With Wire Fraud?
Your criminal defense attorney will examine the circumstances of your case and develop a defense argument in cases involving wire fraud or related offenses. Numerous defense strategies are available. What the defendant knows, their intent and state of mind at the time, and their statements are vital in formulating a defense.
Intent to commit fraud must be proven, which can be difficult for prosecutors. Defendants may not have realized they were participating in fraud or may not have intended to defraud. It isn’t possible to commit wire fraud by accident. Unknowingly passing lousy information to others about a product or service may be used to a defendant’s advantage through a mistake of fact defense. People who are unaware they have insufficient information and are deceiving others can build a defense using this approach. Defense attorneys may be able to prove innocence or negotiate a plea bargain.
It’s incumbent on the prosecution to prove specific intent, which can be difficult and is one way an attorney can defend a client. Specific intent is willfully committing an offense and expecting results, meaning the defendant knew what they were doing and intended to defraud the victim.
Let De Castroverde Help
Wire fraud and related charges are serious matters that experts must handle, regardless of the circumstances. Having an expert attorney on your side to help you navigate your unique case is essential in protecting your rights. Schedule a free consultation with De Castroverde Criminal & Immigration Lawyers if you or a family member are facing wire fraud or similar charges. Our attorneys will evaluate your case and bring it to a prompt and fair conclusion. Call us at 702-996-4860 or complete our secure online form to get started today.
Photo Credit: Case Closed! by slgckgc is licensed with CC BY 2.0