The federal government first addressed mail fraud in the 19th century after evidence of such schemes surfaced. Because mail (and later, wire) communications often cross over state lines using the U.S. Postal Service or other interstate transmitters, it makes sense for a fraudulent scheme initiated via mail or wire to be a federal issue. Thus, since 1872, it has been a federal crime to use the mail—and more recently, the internet—to intentionally deprive someone of property or services.
That is the basic definition of mail and wire fraud: intentionally depriving someone of property or services via mail or wire communications. It is important to note, though, that a misleading or deceptive mailing is generally not fraudulent if it is advertising a legitimate service or product. Intent is key. The accused must have intended to defraud another person. In other words, the accused must have intended to get something for nothing.
State and Federal Charges
In some states, including Illinois, mail and wire fraud are also state crimes. However, if a person is charged with violating both the federal and state statutes, he or she will likely be prosecuted in federal court, and the elements of these statutes are similar. Under Illinois law, a person commits mail fraud if he or she devises or intends to devise a scheme to defraud someone of money or property by using mail communications. The intent to defraud is present if the person takes any of the following actions:
- Places a fraudulent mailing in an Illinois post office or authorized mail depository that is then mailed by the U.S. Postal Service;
- Deposits or causes to be deposited in Illinois a fraudulent mailing that is to be sent by mail or by a private or commercial carrier;
- Takes or receives a fraudulent mailing from the mail or from a private or commercial carrier “at the place at which it is directed to be delivered by the person to whom it is addressed”; or
- Knowingly causes a fraudulent mailing to be delivered by mail or by private or commercial carrier.
The Elements of Wire Fraud
With the advent of the Internet and other wire communications, fraudsters gained additional means to carry out their schemes. Under Illinois law, a person commits wire fraud if he or she devises or intends to devise a scheme to defraud someone of money or property by using wire, radio or television communications. The accused must have transmitted the communication, or caused it to be transmitted:
- From within Illinois;
- So that the transmission was received by a person within Illinois; or
- So that the transmission could be accessed by a person within Illinois.
While not every piece of so-called “spam” is evidence of intent to defraud, mail and wire fraud are often easy to prove and also fairly common. Both crimes are Class 3 felonies, punishable by two to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
If you have been charged with mail fraud or wire fraud, the consequences can be severe. Contact an experienced DuPage County criminal defense attorney for help with your case. Call 630-933-8400 for a free consultation with Salvatore C. Miglore & Associates today.