Federal wire fraud is a serious offense that results in high fines and significant federal prison time. It consists of using electronic communications to defraud another person. This page explains what it is, its statute, definition, and potential penalties. If you are charged with this crime, you need an experienced wire fraud lawyer to defend you. Our federal wire fraud defense attorneys are here to help.
Contact the Zoukis Consulting Group if you or someone you know is accused of committing wire fraud. Our partner wire fraud defense attorneys will defend you in court, seeking an acquittal or the lowest possible sentence.
Book a free initial consultation today!
Table of contents
- What is Wire Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343)?
- What is Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud?
- What is the Federal Wire Fraud Statute?
- Wire Fraud Definition
- Wire Fraud Elements
- Types of Wire Fraud
- Is Wire Fraud a Felony?
- Is Wire Fraud a Federal Crime?
- What is the Wire Fraud Penalty?
- Wire Fraud Case Sentences
- What Increases or Decreases Wire Fraud Sentences?
- U.S. Department of Justice’s Wire Fraud Position (§ 9-43.100)
- Wire Fraud Statute of Limitations
- Common Legal Defenses to Wire Fraud Cases
- Who Investigates and Prosecutes Wire Fraud?
- What Should You Do if Charged with Federal Wire Fraud?
- Your Federal Wire Fraud Experts
What is Wire Fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343)?
It’s essential to understand the charges when fighting against mail and wire fraud charges. By better understanding this type of crime, you can defend yourself more effectively. The first thing you should know about these federal charges is that you will need a wire fraud attorney to fight for you.
More specifically, it is the intentional and knowing use of electronic communications to deceive another person for financial gain.
It is an extraordinarily broad offense that can be committed through any electronic means, including:
- Phone calls
- Text messages
- Social media messages
While this can be charged at the state level, federal prosecutors aggressively prosecute these economic crimes. The federal nexus is electronic communications facilities that either 1) cross state lines or 2) the equipment used was transported in interstate commerce (e.g., cell phones, computers, etc.).
Wire fraud is often attached to related fraud offenses. For example, defendants charged with embezzlement, loan fraud, and other financial crimes are usually charged with this federal crime. Due to the complicated nature of these offenses, you need an experienced wire fraud lawyer on your side.
What is Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud?
Federal conspiracy to commit wire fraud consists of willful and knowingly attempting to commit this crime with another person. This requires performing one substantive step, which contributes to the crime itself.
For example, two or more people may discuss specific ways to commit this federal crime, then take a step towards its commission. An illustration is two people who create a fake weight supplement and strive to market it through the internet.
Two elements are required to sustain a federal conspiracy to commit wire fraud conviction:
- Two or more persons, in some way or manner, agree to try to accomplish a joint and unlawful plan to commit wire fraud; and
- The defendant knew the unlawful purpose of the plan and willfully joined in it.
Defendants can be charged even if they only have a small part but know about the scheme and participate in a single instance. With this being said, simply being present or knowing of the conspiracy is not enough. They must participate in at least one action to further the conspiracy.
Immediately speak with a federal wire fraud defense lawyer if charged with any economic crime. Your defense attorney can explain the process and interject as appropriate.
What is the Federal Wire Fraud Statute?
The federal wire fraud statute is contained in 18 U.S.C. § 1343. It reads:
“Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If the violation occurs in relation to, or involving any benefit authorized, transported, transmitted, transferred, disbursed, or paid in connection with, a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency (as those terms are defined in section 102 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122)), or affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.”18 U.S.C. § 1343
As seen above, this is an expansive statute that applies to many types of potentially criminal conduct. If charged under this federal statute, you need a skilled federal wire fraud defense attorney to defend you. They can review your case, advise how best to proceed, and ensure your rights are protected.
Wire Fraud Definition
The definition of wire fraud is a “knowing misrepresentation or knowing concealment of a material fact made to induce another to act to his or her detriment.”
As applied to wire-related crimes, this is a fraudulent act using electronic communications to defraud another in foreign or interstate commerce. For example, using radio, television, phone calls, emails, or text messages to defraud another person.
Wire Fraud Elements
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Resource Manual at § 941 explains the elements of wire fraud. It states wire fraud “requires the use of an interstate telephone call or electronic communication made in furtherance of the scheme.”
Federal wire fraud consists of four distinct elements:
- The defendant knowingly devised or participated in a scheme to defraud or to obtain money or property by using false pretenses, representations, or promises;
- The false pretenses, representations, or promises were about a material fact;
- The defendant acted willfully with an intent to defraud; and
- The defendant transmitted or caused to be transmitted by wire some communication in interstate commerce for the purpose of executing the scheme to defraud.
The Congressional Resource Service defines the elements of wire fraud similarly:
- Causing the use of wire communications, including email;
- In conjunction with a scheme to intentionally defraud another of money or property;
- Through a material deception.
As seen above, this federal crime generally uses interstate wire, radio, or television communications to carry out a scheme to defraud someone else.
Types of Wire Fraud
There are various types of wire fraud due to this federal crime’s breadth and scope.
Common methods of this crime include:
- Telemarketing scams
- Email and text message phishing
- Nigerian prince scams
- Internet scams
- Sweepstakes and check scams
The following sections present several wire fraud examples. If charged with any of these, you need an experienced and dedicated federal wire fraud defense lawyer to mount your defense.
Telemarketing scams come in many varieties. They usually consist of fake telemarketers taking advantage of unsuspecting victims through phone calls.
Typically, these scammers call targets, pressuring them to provide credit card or other personal information. This information is then used to obtain loans or otherwise fraudulently use their financial credit.
Common examples of telemarketing fraud include callers who offer a free gift, vacation, or prizes for paying a small fee. Once the fee is paid, the telemarketer fraudulently overbills or charges the payment source.
Internet scams come in many shapes and varieties. They all consist of using the internet to steal money fraudulently.
Internet auction fraud consists of auctioning products that are never delivered. In one notable case, an eBay seller sold items such as Rolex watches but failed to provide the products or mailed other, less expensive products to customers.
Nigerian Prince Scams
Nigerian fraud schemes are one of the most common examples of wire fraud. In this case, a so-called Nigerian government official says they need to transfer money illegally out of their country and agree to share a portion of the sum after you support them by paying exit taxes, government bribes, or other fees.
Often, these Nigerian scammers request documents such as blank letterhead, bank account numbers and names, and other personal information. With this financial information, the scammer attempts to steal money from the victim. This sometimes includes identity theft combined with withdrawing funds from bank accounts or fraudulent credit card charges.
The lost traveler scam is related. Here, a purported international traveler is stranded and needs funds to return home. These scammers sometimes allege being a distant cousin or another family member. Once the funds are wired to help them return home, the person is never heard from again.
Phishing consists of fraudulently using emails, text messages, and phone calls to obtain personal information from victims.
In this fraudulent scheme, the person commonly pretends to be a company employee needing to verify information or have the customer reset their password. For example, the person may impersonate a bank or credit card employee.
After obtaining personal, financial, or login information, they use this information to steal from the victim. This can include unauthorized credit card charges or even opening up new lines of credit.
Product scams also come in many varieties. Typically, this form of wire fraud consists of a company sales representative calling or emailing a customer claiming that their product has particular benefits when it does not.
For example, the telemarketer or email marketer may claim a weight loss product is clinically proven to reduce weight. Likewise, the marketer may claim the product is based on clinical studies. In both cases, the product would not have any underlying clinical studies.
Vacation fraud is another example of wire fraud. An independent travel agent offers to book a discounted vacation package in these cases. This may include hotels, airfares, or cruises.
Once the victim’s credit card is charged, the travel agent never books the vacation. Or, the travel agent may book the vacation but then fraudulently charge the victim’s card for unauthorized amounts.
In one notable case, a fake travel agent scammed people out of more than $400,000. The person sold fake Disney World travel packages, including nonexistent plane tickets and hotel stays.
Is Wire Fraud a Felony?
Wire fraud can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony at the state level. For example, some states target this crime severity decision to the amount of loss (e.g., in Florida, if the loss is more than $300, it is charged as a felony).
At the federal level, all wire fraud charges are felonies. If you are convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1343, you will be convicted of a felony. This is why it is critical to retain an experienced federal wire fraud defense attorney at first sight of trouble.
Is Wire Fraud a Federal Crime?
Wire fraud is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1343. While it is a federal crime, it is also commonly charged at the state level.
While many people think of just criminal law, there are generally two tiers of crimes: state crimes and federal crimes. This is a critical distinction, as you need a federal wire fraud lawyer to defend you against these specific crimes.
Offenses become federal crimes when they violate a federal statute. Crimes that extend beyond state boundaries, have a federal nexus, or are against the federal government are federal crimes.
What is the Wire Fraud Penalty?
Wire fraud penalties depend on the victim’s status. This is governed by 18 U.S.C. § 1343.
Generally speaking, criminal defendants convicted of federal wire fraud may be sentenced to up to 20 years in federal prison. They may also receive up to a $250,000 fine. Restitution can also be ordered.
If the victim is a financial institution, these penalties increase to not more than 30 years in federal prison and a maximum $500,000 fine. This is also applied when the crime is related to a natural disaster.
Additionally, if the defendant also commits identity theft, they are subject to a two-year mandatory minimum sentence.
While imprisonment is a common sentencing outcome, defendants may also be sentenced to probation, a post-imprisonment term of supervised release, special assessment fees, restitution orders, and forfeiture orders.
With so many potential sentencing options, a sharp federal wire fraud defense attorney can help you strategize the best sentencing approach. This may include arguing for a specific, lesser imprisonment sentence. Likewise, it could also include seeking probation.
Wire Fraud Case Sentences
It is challenging to discern typical wire fraud case sentences because United States Sentencing Guideline § 2B2.1 encompasses a plethora of criminal conduct. This Guideline applies to approximately 10 percent of federal criminal cases annually. Likewise, loss amounts vary significantly and are a highly fact-specific inquiry.
In the fiscal year 2020, 4,356 defendants were charged with theft, property, destruction, and fraud. Approximately 96.3 percent were convicted through plea bargains, while only 3.7 percent went to trial.
The average sentence for this group was 27 months imprisonment, with a median sentence of 18 months in prison. The majority of convicted defendants (72.4 percent) received a prison sentence.
A total of 11.5 percent of economic crimes defendants were convicted of a mandatory minimum qualifying offense. Of these, 19.1 percent received sentences below the required mandatory minimum. A federal wire fraud defense attorney’s strategic intervention can increase the likelihood of a sentence reduction.
What Increases or Decreases Wire Fraud Sentences?
Sentencing data provides insight into what offense conduct is likely to increase sentences, including:
- The number of victims and the extent of harm.
- Sophisticated means to commit or hide the fraud.
- Use of unauthorized identification to commit the offense.
- Having a leadership role in the crime.
- Abusing a position of trust or using special skills to commit the offense.
- Obstructing the investigation into the violation.
On the other hand, defendants on average received a 64.1 percent sentence reduction if they cooperated with the government in prosecuting others. Over 19 percent of economic crime defendants received this form of downward departure for substantial assistance to the government. A smart wire fraud lawyer can seek the same sentence reductions in your case.
U.S. Department of Justice’s Wire Fraud Position (§ 9-43.100)
Federal judges and legal commentators have criticized wire fraud’s expansive scope. These statutes have provided prosecutors a way to dubiously salvage criminal cases at risk of failure.
Due to wire fraud’s scope and breadth, the U.S. Department of Justice has developed guidelines limiting when federal prosecutors may bring these charges.
The DOJ Justice Manual explains that wire fraud charges should be brought when a “class of persons” or the “general public” is targeted and only when a “substantial pattern of conduct” exists.
The DOJ Manual explains that fraud limited to isolated transactions amongst individuals should generally not be prosecuted under wire fraud as the primary Guideline. Likewise, fraud that involves a lesser loss amount should also not be prosecuted under this provision of the U.S. Code.
Wire Fraud Statute of Limitations
Federal wire fraud generally has a five-year statute of limitations (18 U.S.C. § 3282). The only exception is for crimes against financial institutions, where the statute of limitations is ten years (18 U.S.C. § 3293).
With the above in mind, wire fraud may still be charged if the scheme extends beyond the statute of limitations if any offense behavior is conducted within the statutory period.
If the statute of limitations has expired, a diligent wire fraud lawyer can seek dismissal of the charges against you.
Common Legal Defenses to Wire Fraud Cases
There are many possible legal defenses to wire fraud cases. This is a highly fact-specific inquiry that depends on the underlying offense circumstances. With this said, the below defenses can be raised:
- Lack of Specific Intent: Most federal crimes require the defendant to specifically intend to commit the offense. As such, a skilled federal wire fraud defense attorney may seek to prove that the defendant lacked the specific intent of committing the crime.
- Mistake of Fact: A possible wire fraud defense is mistake of fact. For example, if the defendant may believe what they are saying is true, negating the knowing and intentional elements.
- Lack of Purpose: Convictions for this type of federal crime must be based on the defendant sending electronic communications for the specific purpose of defrauding the victim. Defense counsel may attempt to show that while electronic communications were sent, they were not sent intending to defraud the recipient.
- Good-Faith Exception: The good-faith defense applies when the defendant believes their fraudulent representations were truthful or that they otherwise did not intend to defraud anyone.
- Statute of Limitations: Federal prosecutors may not proceed with the case if the wire fraud charge is not prosecuted within the statutory period.
- Puffery: Puffery consists of exaggerated language or claims made during a sales process. These claims are not intended to be taken literally. For example, a car salesperson saying the car will change a buyer’s life. Or a jewelry salesperson stating that a diamond will blind others with its brilliance.
Who Investigates and Prosecutes Wire Fraud?
Numerous federal and state law enforcement agencies can investigate wire fraud. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigations often investigates these federal crimes. Likewise, the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, and other federal agencies also investigate wire fraud.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office conducts all federal criminal prosecutions. Typically, an Assistant United States Attorney handles the case’s actual prosecution. The U.S. Attorney’s Office utilizes investigative work product and evidence from federal law enforcement agencies to pursue wire fraud convictions.
You need a dedicated wire fraud lawyer if you are under investigation or charged with this type of crime. Don’t delay. Hire a competent attorney at the first sight of trouble.
What Should You Do if Charged with Federal Wire Fraud?
Because of wire fraud’s expansiveness, it can be easy to commit this federal crime. This only requires the use of electronic communication methods to defraud another person. This is a classic white-collar crime because it involves tricking victims for financial gain without physically harming them.
Being accused of wire fraud is a serious situation that could expose you to severe criminal sentencing liability. That’s because each attempted or successful act counts as a separate case. For example, if you sent multiple emails associated with a wire fraud offense, the prosecution can elect to pursue each instance as an individual case with its own charge.
But you can still improve your circumstances by working with a dedicated federal wire fraud defense attorney. Your attorney will help you understand these charges, possible defenses, and what you should do now.
Contact the Zoukis Consulting Group if you need wire fraud criminal lawyers to defend you from your federal charges and seek an acquittal or the lowest possible sentence.
Your Federal Wire Fraud Experts
Please get in touch with the Zoukis Consulting Group if you or a loved one are charged with federal wire fraud. Our partner federal wire fraud defense lawyers can explain your options, mount a defense, and mitigate any possible sentence.
If charged with this offense, you need a federal wire fraud defense firm on your side. Our network of wire fraud defense attorneys will be with you every step, holding the government to account and making federal prosecutors prove their case.
Book a free initial consultation today to speak with a team member!
Published Feb 16, 2022 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on Mar 31, 2022 at 6:19 am