With about 3 million fraud and identity theft incidents reported online every year, wire fraud is just one of many crimes that can fall under that umbrella. If you’re concerned about accusations of wire fraud, it might be scary to even ask a professional about the details. However, the law is fairly straightforward and forgiving when it comes to people who are wrongfully accused.
Here’s everything you need to know about fraud cases like this.
Understanding This Type of Fraud
Scams taking place over state lines often require communications “over wires” or online. Telemarketing scams, any type of online phishing attempts, or fraud related to spam emails all fall under the umbrella of this type of fraud. When you start crossing state lines, it ends up under the jurisdiction of federal laws.
Federal offenses end up under the jurisdiction of the FBI. This is compounded by whatever individual state laws are broken and charges are filed when a crime is committed.
Wire fraud is a vague claim and includes writing, signs, pictures, or sounds transmitted via electronic or digital media. Radio or television signals count as well. When someone is accused of wire fraud, that’s because federal prosecutors want to elevate the crime beyond the limits of the state level.
When Do Prosecutors Know to Claim This Type of Fraud?
Beyond just the actual medium used to communicate, there are several key elements to defining fraud of this type. It’s more than just an unsolicited or unwanted communication over phone or electronic lines.
In these cases, the defendant must prove they didn’t create a scheme to get money from someone else. This can be as simple as participation, even when the defendant didn’t create the scheme. Also, the goal could have been the property of any type rather than money.
There has to be a clear intention that the defendant aimed to defraud someone. This is a bit more slippery, as it’s conceivable for a small business to create an online giveaway or contest that requires purchase. If they don’t fulfill their claims, someone could claim fraud.
Prosecutors need to prove that the defendant did or would use wire communications. It also needs to be proven that the defendants used some kind of interstate system. This is a pretty broad definition and includes phone lines, internet communication, television, and even faxes in some cases.
The Penalties Are No Joke
Anyone found guilty of wire fraud under federal laws is going to face serious penalties. There are high fines and long prison sentences given based on the severity of the crime and discretion of the judge.
Fines for an individual accused of this type of fraud can be as high as $250,000. For an organization or corporation committing this crime, fines are doubled, up to $500,000. If there’s a prison sentence handed down, it could be as long as 20 years.
If fraud is declared to be a major disaster or involves a federal financial institution, the penalties are even greater. Presidents can declare the fraud a major disaster, which will lead federal prosecutors to ask for a full 30 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $1 million.
It’s important to remember that each “count”, meaning each call, email, or message, is considered separately. That means that five counts of fraud mean five times the penalty and five times the fees. Running a major wire scheme that is named as fraud could be quite costly.
Some Common Fraud Schemes
Most fraud schemes are going to target personal financial information. Whether it’s credit card info, bank or routing info, or access to a digital payment account, that’s usually the goal of fraud schemes.
Scammers have moved beyond telemarketing and phone call fraud and are now relying on the internet to defraud people. With the ability to send messages to millions of people at once, an email server can use common “phishing” schemes to get users to click nefarious links. It takes a very minuscule percentage of people to fall for one of these schemes for it to be lucrative.
Since the beginning of the free email providers, there has been a “Nigerian Prince” scam running. The sender claims that they’re an exiled prince or someone who is in dire need. They reach out to people hoping they have no knowledge of Nigerian politics and current goings-on to see if they’ll offer their account information.
The Nigerian prince promises to wire their own Nigerian money into your account to protect it from nefarious Nigerian authorities. While this isn’t the form that most wire fraud cases take, it’s definitely one of the most famous.
Even if you don’t fit into one of these categories, you can still be charged with wire fraud.
What to Do Once You’ve Been Charged with Wire Fraud
Being charged with wire fraud when you haven’t been running a scam or a scheme might be part of a larger plan. Federal authorities get access to all kinds of financial information to look for any underlying crimes once they can make these charges stick.
If you’ve been charged, you need an expert criminal defense attorney in your area who knows the local and federal laws. Someone who has been down this road before can help you get through your case without dire consequences. It takes an experienced lawyer to understand what is possible for clients like you and how you could avoid jail time.
For more on how we can help you with this type of case, check out our guide.