Mail fraud involves using the U.S. Postal Service to commit fraudulent activity. Defendants must possess the intention to fraudulently deprive another of something, usually money or property, for the person committing the fraud’s benefit. Read on to learn more about what is mail fraud, the mail fraud statute, and how a mail fraud lawyer can help. If you are charged under the federal mail fraud statute, you should contact an experienced mail fraud attorney as soon as possible.
Table of contents
- What is Fraud?
- What is Mail Fraud?
- Types of Mail Fraud
- Mail Fraud Elements
- What is the Federal Mail Fraud Statute?
- Common Legal Defenses to Mail Fraud
- Who Investigates Mail Fraud?
- Who Prosecutes Mail Fraud?
- Your Federal Mail Fraud Lawyers
What is Fraud?
Fraud is a wrongful or criminal deception intending to result in financial or personal gain. Mail fraud is committed when, in the course of fraudulent activity, the mail service is utilized.
The acts of sending and receiving fraudulent mail through the U.S. Mail system or a private mail delivery service counts as mail fraud. It is a serious offense resulting in significant fines and federal prison time. It is therefore vital to engage an experienced mail fraud lawyer to assist with any matters relating to this offense.
Mail fraud is different from wire fraud, although the two are often closely related. Wire fraud involves the electronic transmission of something associated with the fraud. This could be via email, social media, radio, television, or phone. This type of fraud is more common today due to the increasing use of and reliance on technology.
Contact Zoukis Consulting Group if you or someone you know is accused of committing mail fraud. Our partner mail fraud defense attorneys will defend you in court, seeking an acquittal or the lowest possible sentence.
What is Mail Fraud?
The commission of mail fraud occurs when a person engages in a scheme to defraud, has the intent to defraud, and uses the mail in furtherance of that scheme. A scheme to defraud means depriving someone of something of value — usually property — by deceitful or dishonest means.
The property could be tangible property, like money or real estate, or intangible property like information or intellectual property. Such schemes are commonly referred to as scams.
Mailing may only form a scheme component and need not be an essential element. It is enough if a mailing is incidental. This provides prosecutors with comprehensive coverage, where any instance of mail fraud is covered under this offense.
While this federal crime is often fulfilled through a post office, it can also be committed through private or commercial interstate carriers (e.g., FedEx, DHL, UPS, etc.).
A defendant does not have to personally deposit a communication in the mail for it to count under this offense. Due to its broad scope, defendants accused of mail fraud charges should obtain a mail fraud lawyer to represent them as soon as possible.
Types of Mail Fraud
Many types of mail fraud schemes exist. Any fraud that uses the U.S. Mail, regardless of whether the mailing is an integral component, is federal mail fraud. The most common types of mail fraud include:
Fraud Against Senior Citizens and Veterans
While mail fraud targets people of all ages, retirees are a common target. Unfortunately, they are more impacted than others when they unknowingly participate in scams.
Illustrating the prevalence of scammers targeting this population: 78% of retired military men and women have been targeted by scams. Scammers often pose as fellow military members and exploit vulnerabilities such as PTSD. The fraudulently obtained information is then used to access benefits, employment, and special discounts at the victim’s expense.
Sweepstakes and Lottery Fraud
These scams purport that someone is the winner of something. Then, personal and financial information must be provided to claim any prizes. Often the “winner” is pressured to act quickly and send money to the scammer to cover aspects like postage or administration fees. Credit card numbers are then obtained and used fraudulently.
Scammers give people seeking employment false hope through fake job offers and obtaining personal information, including bank and credit card details. Common employment scams include pyramid schemes and check-cashing schemes.
This type of fraud usually begins by sending letters describing an appealing offer with a prompt to call a toll-free phone number. The telemarketer often has a convincing sales pitch and uses tactics to trick the caller into providing personal information.
Financial fraud involves deception using financial transactions to obtain money for personal gain. Often this is set up through an offer that first requires payment, like a new credit card or advances on a loan. These schemes use communications in some form to request money by persuading victims to participate.
Another variation is honest services fraud. This type of fraud involves paying a kickback or bribe to influence a fiduciary. For example, this was recently seen in the Varsity Blues investigation, where wealthy parents paid bribes to secure their children’s placement in elite universities.
Mail Fraud Elements
Section 940 of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Resource Manual explains the three criminal law elements of mail fraud:
- A Mail Communication: This requires a piece of fraudulent mail to be processed through the postal service. The communication could be either sent or received.
- A Scheme and Intent to Defraud Someone of Property: A defendant must have devised or intended to create a scheme to defraud (or perform specified fraudulent acts).
- A Material Deception: This requires using the mail to execute the scheme (or specified fraudulent acts) and defraud the targeted victims.
What is the Federal Mail Fraud Statute?
As seen in the elements above, mail fraud is a very broad offense. The law relating to this offense is U.S. Code Title 18 Crimes and Criminal Procedures, sections 1341 and 1342. These sections apply to a wide range of criminal conduct. The linking factor is using the mail system to perpetrate a fraud offense.
For mail fraud to be charged as a federal crime, the fraudulent piece of mail must have crossed state lines. For example, a letter containing fraudulent content could be sent in California and successfully delivered to a Texas address. This classifies the transportation as “interstate,” falling within Congress’s regulatory powers.
18 USC § 1341 Mail Fraud Statute
Section 1341 covers fraudulent activity where the postal system is utilized. Anyone who has or intends to devise any scheme to defraud and obtain property through fraudulent pretenses is covered by this section. Any instance where the postal system is utilized to advance a fraudulent scheme is covered by this section.
Both the sending and receiving of fraudulent mail count under this federal mail fraud statute. Therefore, this section provides broad coverage involving any instance of using the postal system in a fraudulent scheme.
Due to the breadth and scope of this criminal offense, it is vital to have an experienced mail fraud attorney to defend against these cases.
18 USC § 1341 Mail Fraud Penalty
Those knowingly participating in mail fraud can be punished with a maximum federal prison sentence of 20 years and a fine. If the fraud occurs during a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency, the maximum fine is $1,000,000, and the maximum sentence for imprisonment increases to 30 years.
At the federal level, all mail fraud charges are felonies. Therefore, if convicted under 18 USC § 1341, the charge is a felony. Due to these high stakes, obtaining vigorous representation from a skilled mail fraud lawyer is vital.
18 USC § 1342 Mail Fraud Statute
Section 1342 deals with the use of fictitious names and addresses. This section covers persons using postal services to conduct, promote, or carry on any scheme mentioned in section 1341.
If a person uses, assumes, or requests to be addressed by any false, fictitious, assumed title, name, or address that is not their proper name and takes or receives any mail addressed with a fictitious name, this section applies.
18 USC § 1342 Mail Fraud Penalty
Any person convicted under this section is liable to imprisonment of up to five years and fines. If a defendant commits identity theft, they are subject to a mandatory two-year minimum sentence. While a sentence of imprisonment is a typical sentencing outcome, federal criminal defendants may also be sentenced to:
- Supervised Release
- Special Assessment Fees
- Restitution Orders
- Forfeiture Orders
At the federal level, all mail fraud charges are felonies. Therefore, if convicted under 18 USC § 1342, the charge is a felony. Due to these high stakes and variable sentencing options, retaining a skilled mail fraud attorney is essential.
Common Legal Defenses to Mail Fraud
The prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to defraud someone and used the mail to facilitate the offense to secure a conviction. Intention and one substantive step need to be proved, not the successful commission of the fraud.
All of the below-discussed defenses are nuanced and difficult to prove. Certain specific elements must be met for any of these defenses to apply. If you are charged with a federal offense, you need a skilled mail fraud lawyer to identify available defenses and advance them on your behalf.
Lack of Specific Intent
If the defendant did not intend to commit the offense, this might offer a viable defense. This defense relies on the defendant either believing the communications were truthful or otherwise not intending to defraud the victim.
Prosecutor Has Not Met the Burden of Proof
The burden to prove the defendant committed the crime rests with the prosecution. The defense will be successful if they demonstrate that the prosecution has not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense team can demonstrate this by filing motions to exclude or suppress evidence, as well as filing motions to dismiss due to lack of evidence.
Mistake of Fact
The intentionality element of the offense cannot be proven if the defendant believed their conduct and communications were truthful. To be guilty of mail fraud, defendants must have intended to defraud. If the defendant did not manifest this intention, the elements of the offense are not satisfied.
Similar to mistake of fact, if a defendant believes their fraudulent representations were truthful — which they can prove — it provides an absolute defense. This defense requires a lack of intent to defraud due to a subjective belief in the truthfulness of their communications. If someone acted honestly, they did not possess the fraudulent intent necessary for a mail fraud conviction. Good faith can be shown by evidence of mistake, accident, or other innocent reasons.
Statute of Limitations
Prosecutors have a limited time to file a case alleging mail fraud. Federal law defines the mail fraud statute of limitations as five years (18 U.S.C. § 3282). If the alleged fraud involved a bank or financial institution, the deadline extends to 10 years (18 U.S.C. § 3293). If a case is brought after the limitation’s deadline, your mail fraud defense attorney can move to have the case dismissed.
Who Investigates Mail Fraud?
Federal mail fraud is investigated primarily by the FBI, Securities and Exchange Commission, and the United States Postal Service’s Postal Inspection Service. The Postal Inspection Service forwards cases to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office if they have reason to suspect mail is being used for fraudulent purposes.
Who Prosecutes Mail Fraud?
The U.S. Attorney General’s office prosecutes all federal crimes. They use the evidence gathered from the investigations carried out by the above agencies. The Attorney General’s office only deals with mail fraud at the federal level, which usually involves large-scale fraud operations.
Note that the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes federal cases on behalf of the United States. Local district attorney’s offices handle more minor cases, such as those violating state law.
Your Federal Mail Fraud Lawyers
Federal prosecutors advance their careers by putting people in jail. Once they have you in their crosshairs, they will vehemently pursue a criminal prosecution that carries the maximum penalty. When facing the total weight of the United States Justice Department, it’s crucial to have a strong ally who will provide tenacious legal representation.
At the Zoukis Consulting Group, we aren’t intimidated by federal prosecutors. We and our partner law firms have gone face-to-face with them many times. Our network of mail fraud lawyers can explain your options, mount a robust defense to the criminal charges, and use our expertise to mitigate or eliminate any possible criminal sentence.
Our mail fraud defense attorney team will be with you, holding the government accountable and making federal prosecutors substantiate every aspect of their case. Book a FREE initial consultation today. We’ll fight tooth and nail to protect your freedom!
Published Feb 15, 2022 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on Jun 29, 2022 at 12:16 am