Criminal Law - Federal

Understanding Wire Fraud

In our modern digital age, our pathways for communication have expanded from phone calls and faxes, to email, text messages, social media, and all kinds of chat apps. That has also expanded the scope of identity theft scams or stealing financial information for profit. If you are facing wire fraud charges, talk to a federal criminal defense lawyer where you live for legal advice as soon as possible.

What Is Wire Fraud?

Wire fraud involves committing fraud through wired communications to trick someone out of money, property, or information. Wire fraud and mail fraud laws were established long before the internet was invented. The government uses these laws, developed to deal with fraud over the radio, television, or telegram lines, to address internet fraud.

According to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) had more than 790,000 complaints with reported losses of over $4.2 billion in 2020, up from $3.5 billion in 2019.

Some common examples of wire fraud can include:

  • Telemarketing fraud, like a phone call from a scammer saying they need help for a disaster relief fund
  • Real estate scams, like someone posing as a real estate company asking to wire money as part of a home sale
  • A call or email posing as your bank to get access to your bank account or credit card number
  • Phishing scams, where someone sends an email that looks like it’s from a credible source, but after clicking it opens the computer network and access to other email accounts
  • Catfishing, where someone uses a fake identity online to lure someone into a fake romantic relationship and scams a victim into sending them money or personal identifying information

Wire fraud cases are not just committed by an individual. Wire fraud charges can be committed on a grander scale by a financial institution or business. These wire transfer charges can be prosecuted at both a state and federal level.

What Are the Elements and Penalties for Wire Fraud?

Under criminal law, to be convicted of federal wire fraud charge, a prosecutor has to prove all the elements of wire fraud beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements of the wire fraud statute under federal law include:

  • That you intentionally created or participated in a scheme to defraud someone out of money
  • You intended to defraud
  • It was foreseeable that it would involve interstate wire communications
  • You used interstate wire communications

Wire fraud is a federal felony offense, and scammers can face up to 20 years in federal prison, and up to $250,000 in fines. The court can also order you to pay back any money or return any stolen property. If the defendant is a financial institution or the fraud involves taking advantage of a natural disaster like a hurricane, penalties can be up to 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines.

The statute of limitations for federal wire fraud schemes is five years for individuals. Larger fraudulent schemes involving financial institutions can be prosecuted for up to 10 years. You can also face a separate count for each wire fraud communication sent, so if you send five fraudulent emails, that may be five charges of fraud.

What Are the Defenses to Wire Fraud Charges?

If you are accused of wire fraud, you have the right to legal representation and to build a legal defense. Some common defenses to wire fraud can include:

  • The lack of intent to defraud
  • An expired statute of limitations
  • Making a mistake of fact, where an attempt to communicate something truthfully via email accidentally included a misrepresentation
  • Engaging in puffery, being “sales pitchy” but not false

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help?

A wire fraud conviction can involve serious penalties. If you are subject to a federal fraud investigation, talk to an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. A wire fraud lawyer with experience working with computer forensics experts can help you understand how to analyze cell phone or computer reports as part of your legal defense. Understanding how to analyze the contents of your phone or the details from an extracted computer report could mean the difference between prison or not for cybercrimes.

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