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The difference between mail fraud and wire fraud

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2023 | White-collar crimes

Under federal law, there are two types of crimes that sound very similar to each other: mail fraud and wire fraud. Both offenses involve using communication systems to conduct fraud schemes, but when is a crime one or the other?

This blog will break down the main differences between the two, including their definitions, jurisdictions and penalties.

Mail fraud defined

Per federal law, mail fraud is any scheme to defraud that’s conducted using the mail or other similar delivery services. This offense includes sending fake or altered documents, bills or letters through the mail, or using mail to solicit money or personal information from victims.

Wire fraud defined

Meanwhile, wire fraud refers to a scheme to defraud, but it involves the use of electronic communication systems, such as the Internet, text messages or wire transfers.  Wire fraud also refers to schemes carried out using emails, which could be why some people would think email scams would fall under mail fraud instead.

Differences in jurisdiction

Mail fraud and wire fraud may be both federal crimes, but the federal agencies handling them are different. The jurisdiction for mail fraud is the United States Postal Service, while wire fraud is the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Similarities in penalties

Although their definitions and jurisdictions differ, the penalties for a conviction of either mail or wire fraud are similar.

On conviction for either offense, a person faces up to $1,000,000 in fines or 30 years of imprisonment, or both. Any property or assets gained through the fraud may be forfeited, and a court might also order the convicted person to pay restitution to the victims of the fraud scheme.

Whether a crime is mail fraud or wire fraud, a conviction leads to a heavy fine and decades of imprisonment. Consider seeking a legal professional if you face a criminal charge for either offense. An attorney can help protect your rights in court and answer any questions you might have about the legal process.