Under federal law, mail fraud and wire fraud are two separate crimes. Because of their similarities, however, they’re often charged together and can give someone the impression that they’re a single criminal charge.
How Are Mail Fraud & Wire Fraud Similar?
First of all, there’s the obvious: Mail fraud and wire fraud both concern an individual’s attempt to defraud another person or entity, usually for financial gain.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Resource Manual notes that "the elements of wire fraud under Section 1343 directly parallel those of the mail fraud statute..." In both crimes, the alleged fraudster is accused of leverage a certain system (the U.S. Postal Service or a telecommunications network, in these cases) to achieve their goals.
Perhaps adding to the confusion is that both are also punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison, but make no mistake: Getting convicted of both mail fraud and wire fraud is no guarantee that your sentences will run concurrently.
How Are Mail Fraud & Wire Fraud Different?
Mail fraud and wire fraud primarily differ in terms of the system that’s abused to perpetrate these crimes, but there are other ways that differentiate them. We’ll discuss each in turn to highlight some of these differences.
When someone involves a courier service like the U.S. Postal service or a private carrier such as UPS or FedEx in a scheme to commit fraud, they can be charged with mail fraud.
A mail-based Ponzi scheme is a good example of mail fraud. When someone circulates letters in the postal service that promises recipients that making a small investment to the fraudster will result in massive returns for them. Because Ponzi schemes are fraudulent, perpetrating one through the mail is considered mail fraud.
It may also be considered mail fraud to send an application or document with false information through the mail if the intent is to deceive the recipient into providing something of value to the sender.
While wire fraud shares in some aspect of mail fraud, this crime differs because it involves the use of an interstate communications network, such as a telephone line or Internet service. When someone in one state makes a call or sends an email to defraud someone else living in another state, the federal government will be involved in investigating and prosecuting the crime as it occurred across state lines.
Wire fraud is generally thought of as involving telemarketing scams, but because telecommunication networks also carry Internet service, there are many other ways wire fraud can be committed. Sending an email, instant messages, or using the Internet in any way to defraud another party can also result in a wire fraud charge.
If you have been charged with either of these serious federal crimes, don’t wait to get the legal support you need to defend against your charges. Getting experienced counsel on your side as soon as possible can help you increase your odds of achieving the best possible results in your case.