Fraud that involves the use of telecommunications such as the internet, telephone, email or fax is classified as wire fraud. Even the use of social media can be used to establish an allegation of wire fraud. Wire fraud is a federal crime. 18 United States Code 1343 is the U.S. code that outlines the elements of wire fraud.
Those elements are listed as:
- that the defendant voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money;
- that the defendant did so with the intent to defraud;
- that it was reasonably foreseeable that interstate wire communications would be used; and
- that interstate wire communications were in fact used.
Common examples of wire fraud crimes include internet or phone scams. In these instances, someone will call or email the receiver pretending to be from a banking institution, government agency or some other trusted source. Many of these “scams” are targeted at obtaining privileged financial information such as banking and credit card account information. That information is then used to access funds belonging to the account holder. Another example of wire fraud is when a person requests through email or over the phone for money to be sent to them through a wire transfer. In these cases, the sender of the email may pretend to be royalty, a long lost relative or simply someone in desperate need of a short-term loan. Other common internet scams notify the recipient that they have won some prize or been selected for a government grant or payout of some sort and their account information is needed to facilitate the transfer.
The examples described are what comes to mind for most people when they think of wire fraud but it is much more common for wire fraud charges to be tied to allegations of embezzlement. If you’re not sure what constitutes embezzlement, please see our article on the topic. The way this usually occurs is when an employee uses accounting software or an online banking app to transfer company funds without permission for a non-authorized purpose.
Although wire fraud often involves the alleged theft of money, it can also include allegations of depriving a person of their property or services.
Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and up to $250,000.00. Although probation is technically available, probation is rarely given in federal cases. Wire fraud is a complex area of criminal law that requires an aggressive and strategic defense.
Wire fraud prosecutions are often targeted at minor participants in a much larger scheme. These participants may have been deceived themselves and may not even know that the activities they were engaging in were illegal. Good faith belief can be a defense to wire fraud when argued effectively. The successful outcome of your defense depends on the experience and expertise of a skilled criminal defense lawyer.
If you’re being investigated for or have been charged with wire fraud, contact us online or call us today for your free consultation at 323-655-5700.