What You Must Know About Mail Fraud

Despite the rise in other technologies, charges for federal mail fraud are still common. Last year, roughly 5% of all consumer frauds were carried out by mail, while this may not initially seem like a high number it means nearly $45,250,000 in fraudulent activity was committed by mail.

Why Does Federal Mail Fraud Still Exist?

Wondering why mail fraud remains relevant in the age of the Internet and credit card fraud? The federal mail fraud statute is broad. The statute (discussed below) covers a wide range of activities and schemes. As well, a prosecutor isn’t required to show that the U.S. postal service or other interstate carrier was at the crux of the fraud or scheme, only that these services were used to further the scheme.

Examples of Federal Mail Fraud

As with other white-collar crimes, there are several different actions that may amount to mail fraud. The breadth of the federal mail fraud statute encompasses any scam or fraud that is in furtherance of another crime, such as identity theft, which is carried out by interstate carrier, including, and in particular, the U.S. Postal Service. Examples of federal mail fraud:

  • A non-existent company purports to offer special offers and discounts in a fraudulent online catalog, and when customers go online or call to order, their credit card information is used for other purposes.
  • An individual poses as a utility company and sends fake bills through the mail, even if these falsified bills are paid online, a prosecutor can change this under the mail fraud statute.

What Does the Law Say About Federal Mail Fraud?

The first statute criminalizing mail fraud was passed in 1872 by the U.S. Congress.  Today, a substantially similar version of that statute can be found in Section 1341 of the U.S. Code. While specifically criminalizing fraud by post or mail, this section of the U.S. Code is simply and broadly called “Frauds and swindles,” which may cause confusion if you only read the title of this statute.

What Are the Elements of Federal Mail Fraud?

Under this federal law, mail fraud is any scheme, scam, fraud, or artifice that seeks to obtain money or other property through the U.S. postal service or any private or commercial interstate shipping company. This creates three elements of mail fraud – and all must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in federal court. These three elements are:

  1. The defendant knowingly devised or participated in a scheme, fraud, scam, or artifice;
  2. The defendant acted in this scheme, fraud, scam, or artifice with the intent to defraud; and
  3. In order to effectuate this scheme, scam, fraud, or artifice the defendant sent mail or packages through the U.S. postal service or another interstate carrier.

What Is an Intent to Defraud?

Most federal offenses require the defendant to have a specific intent when performing the actions that amount to a crime. In fact, without the requisite intent, the defendant didn’t commit a crime at all. Federal mail fraud requires that the defendant acted with the intent to defraud.

Intent to defraud means you had knowledge of the wrongdoing. You knew that mailing a specific package or sending a letter requesting personal data was going to harm the victim or result in a different fraud. If you mailed the letter accidentally or mistakenly sent it to the wrong address, a federal defense lawyer can argue you didn’t possess the appropriate intent to defraud.

Where to Begin If You Are Accused of Mail Fraud?

As are other federal white-collar crimes, mail fraud charges are serious. Under the federal mail fraud statute, the maximum punishment allowed is 20 years in federal prison. This lengthy term of incarceration is in addition to a criminal fine and retribution to the victims of fraudulent activity. If you are accused of mail fraud, you should take action immediately, including each of these steps:

  1. Contact a reliable and knowledgeable federal defense lawyer who is admitted to the federal district court in your state.
  2. Perform an internal audit on your business activities or personal correspondence to determine what actions may have attracted the attention of federal investigators.
  3. Speak with your lawyer before answering questions posed by federal investigators, even if you aren’t under arrest.
  4. Cease any activity that could be interpreted as mail fraud under the federal statute.

Why You Should Contact a Mail Fraud Lawyer?

You deserve a strong defense. If you are facing charges for any federal offense, including mail fraud, then the advice and knowledge of a federal defense lawyer can substantially help your case. The top defense lawyers will have extensive experience with mail fraud charges and depth of knowledge about this specific crime and the procedure required in federal court.