What is wire fraud in the United States?
To answer that question, we first have to define fraud, which in most states is any activity for the purpose of obtaining money or personal gain by making false statements, misleading, or deceiving another person.
Wire fraud occurs when someone uses any type of electronic communications, television communication, interstate wire communications, interstate wires, and local wire communication, with a scheme to defraud or deprive another person of something valuable. Prosecutors can pursue misdemeanor or felony charges and jail time, especially if the intent to defraud caused a significant financial loss.
The Legal Elements of Wire Fraud
To convict a defendant of wire fraud, prosecutors must prove that four elements existed, including:
- The defendant participated in a scheme to defraud the victim to obtain money
- The defendant had the intent to defraud the victim
- It was likely or foreseeable that the defendant would defraud the victim using electronic communications.
- The defendant used wire communication to defraud the victim
Common Examples of Wire Fraud
One example of wire fraud occurs when someone makes a phone call and lies that the person who answered has won a prize, but needs to provide personal information like a social security number and date of birth.
Once that person provides that information, the caller uses the information to access that person’s financial institution accounts, including credit cards.
Another common example is when a person sends out a mass email that looks like it came from a legitimate company, asking for personal details. For example, you may receive an email from PayPal (or another company you do business with) asking you to update your financial information.
The email looks legitimate, so you log in to your PayPal account directly from the email, not knowing that you’re about to enter your personal financial information on a page that is controlled by a scammer.
This practice is known as ‘phishing,’ and is one of the popular ways that people commit wire fraud.
Penalties for Wire Fraud Conviction
Each state has its own penalties for a wire fraud conviction, but felony crimes related to finances will often carry a prison sentence and a hefty fine.
For example, people convicted of wire fraud in California can serve up to 20 years in federal prison, and may also have to pay a fine or restitution to the victim.
The penalties can get worse if the wire fraud was committed against a financial institution, or if the wire fraud involves a federal disaster organization.
Typically, the greater the amount of money or valuable items that a victim lost, the higher the likelihood that the prison sentence and fines will be more punitive.
The Role of a Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer
After you’re arrested for wire fraud, it is important that you hire an experienced law firm to defend you and to protect your rights. The Elden Law Group has the expertise to know when to go to trial, or when it’s in your best interest to seek a plea bargain with the prosecutor. Give us a call today at 888-991-9353 for a free consultation.