Mail fraud is a federal felony in the arena of white-collar crimes.
In 2020, Nebraska residents reported 9,072 instances of fraud totaling $13.3 million in losses to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Overall, U.S. consumers reported losing more than $3.3 billion to fraud during 2020. The FTC reported these common types of mail fraud in Nebraska:
- Imposter scams (e.g., impersonating a relative, such as a grandchild);
- Prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries;
- Internet services;
- Health care;
- Privacy, data security, and cyber threat;
- Telephone and mobile services;
- Business and job opportunities;
- Travel, vacations, and timeshare plans; and
- Foreign money offers and fake check scams.
If you’ve been accused of mail fraud, consider hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you.
The attorneys at Peterson Law Office understand that an accusation of mail fraud likely goes against your ordinary good character.
Call criminal defense attorney Tom Peterson today, and he’ll fight to help you avoid costly mail fraud penalties.
What Is Mail Fraud?
Mail fraud is a federal crime that dates back to 1872. Since then, Congress has only changed the federal mail fraud statute (18 U.S. Code § 1341) a few times to expand its scope.
Essentially, mail fraud is a crime that uses mail as a component of a deceptive scheme. The defendant does not have to deposit something in the mail or make a false statement in a letter.
It is enough for the defendant to cause a mailing (for example, a request that someone mail a check during a phone call). Mail fraud outlaws any mailing that furthers a scheme contrary to public policy, regardless of whether the law allows Congress to forbid the scheme itself.
If a person defrauds another using e-mail, this is a similar offense known as wire fraud. Although wire fraud is a separate crime from mail fraud, Congress wrote these statutes to be identical other than the use of mail or “wire” to perform the fraud.
Courts have interpreted the two statutes using similar elements.
The federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute mail fraud because the United States Postal Service is federal property.
But if a person uses a private carrier such as UPS or FedEx to send a message across state lines, the federal government can still prosecute mail fraud.
The state can prosecute in the state where the message was sent or received. However, a crime completed wholly in-state may not be within federal jurisdiction.
What Are the Elements of Mail Fraud?
Federal prosecutors use mail fraud to prosecute a broad range of criminal conduct. Prosecutors often use mail fraud as an initial charge and add other charges such as money laundering or racketeering (RICO) as they discover evidence.
To convict someone for mail fraud, a prosecutor must prove:
- Use of the mail;
- In conjunction with a plan or scheme to intentionally defraud another of money or property;
- Through a material deception.
The mail does not need to be an essential element of the crime. The government must prove that the use of the mail was “part of the execution of the scheme as conceived by the perpetrator at the time.”
In applying the mail fraud statute, the government looks to the intent and purpose of the defendant’s actions. It must prove that the goal and purpose of the crime were to deceive and cause some harm to result from the deceit.
Courts interpret the definition of fraud in a nontechnical way and apply general moral standards to identify deceit. The government only needs to show proof of a scheme calculated to deceive “persons of ordinary prudence and comprehension.”
The strongest defense against mail fraud is if the government did not prove a sufficient connection between the use of mail and the scheme.
It is also an effective defense if the defendant believed the statements or promises they made were true.
Essentially, a court cannot convict if the facts go against a showing of an intent to defraud. However, a court can find fraud if a defendant intended deceit but did not think the scheme would ultimately harm the victim.
Is Mail Fraud a Felony?
Under federal law, a person convicted of mail fraud faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail, a fine up to $250,000, or both.
The amount of jail time you receive depends on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which give harsher penalties for those with criminal histories. The court can also require you to pay restitution to the victims or forfeit your personal property.
In addition, the government can prosecute you for mail fraud even if you did not complete the fraud.
If it can prove that you attempted to defraud, it can convict you. Finally, you may be guilty of conspiracy if you committed the crime along with other people. Conspiracy can carry additional penalties.
Peterson Law Office: Your Mail Fraud Attorney in Nebraska
If the state has threatened you with mail fraud charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney can make a difference in the outcome of your case.
Tom Peterson has fought for his clients in more than 6,000 cases. He focuses exclusively on criminal defense, including white-collar crimes and federal offenses.
Tom has gotten many of his client’s penalties reduced, charges dismissed, and verdicts of not-guilty from a jury. Contact Tom today for a free consultation and to discuss your options for a successful defense.