Wire fraud is a federal offense. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the law regarding wire fraud is essentially the same as mail fraud. The primary difference is that, instead of using the mail, the person uses interstate wire communications. Wire fraud includes interstate telephone calls, faxes, television transmissions, and messages sent electronically such as texts and online communications.

Here are the elements needed to prove wire fraud and the penalties if a person receives a conviction.

The elements of wire fraud

There are a number of significant cases where federal judges convicted a person or group of wire fraud, including United States v. Briscoe, United States v. Ames Sintering Co. and United States v. Frey. In all of these and similar cases, these four basic factors stand out:

  1. The defendant schemed to defraud someone out of money
  2. The defendant’s participation was voluntary and intentional
  3. The defendant could have reasonably expected to use interstate wire communications
  4. The defendant used interstate wire communications to facilitate the scheme

Intent is a key facet of wire fraud, both in the plan to defraud and the plan to use interstate wire communications.

The penalties for wire fraud

As with any conviction, the penalties for wire fraud vary depending on the circumstances, FindLaw explains. For example, an individual may face fines of up to $250,000, but an organization may face fines of as high as $500,000. The potential prison sentence would not be more than 20 years unless the scheme involves a bank or other financial institution, or a presidentially declared major disaster. Then, the defendant could face higher penalties, which may include 30 years in prison and fines as high as $1 million.