In the United States, mail and wire fraud is any fraudulent scheme to intentionally deprive another of property or honest services via mail or wire communication. It has been a federal crime in the United States since 1872.
18 U.S.C. § 1341 provides:
18 U.S.C. § 1343 provides:
18 U.S.C. § 1346 provides:
There are three elements to mail and wire fraud:
To be fraudulent, a misrepresentation must be material.
Mail fraud applies only to United States domestic mailings and use of interstate carriers (UPS, FedEx) which must originate in one state, and successfully terminate pursuant to the address label inside another state, a transportation that is termed "interstate" (over which Congress has power to regulate) and does require that the mailing cross at least one state line into another state; wire fraud has been expanded by Congress to include foreign wire communication or interstate connections via (e.g.) an e-mail server or telephone switch or radio communication.
In McNally v. United States (1987), the Supreme Court held that 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1343 did not reach "honest services fraud". Congress responded by passing 18 U.S.C. § 1346. In Skilling v. United States (2010), the Court construed § 1346 to apply only to bribes and kickbacks.
There are many types of mail fraud schemes, including employment fraud, financial fraud, fraud against older Americans, sweepstakes and lottery fraud, and telemarketing fraud. Additional information about these various types of mail fraud schemes can be found on the United States Postal Inspection Service website.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Chief Postal Inspector Martin McGee, also known as "The Top Sleuth" or "Mr. Mail Fraud", led his department in exposing and prosecuting numerous mail fraud swindles such as land sales, phony advertising practices, insurance ripoffs, and fraudulent charitable organizations using the mail.
18 U.S.C. §1341 and 18 U.S.C. §1343 are extremely broad, criminalizing every "scheme to defraud" that "causes" mails to be used at any incidental stage. This has been held by the Supreme Court to encompass "everything designed to defraud by representations as to the past or present, or suggestions and promises as to the future." Lower courts have progressively expanded this ruling, finding that the act "puts its imprimatur on the accepted moral standards and condemns conduct which fails to match the 'reflection of moral uprightness, of fundamental honesty, fair play and right dealing in the general and business life of members of society'". As interpreted, these requirements are not difficult to meet, and while the Justice Department claims to defer federal prosecution for petty local fraud, no legal mechanism prevents abuse of this limitation.
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