You probably hear stories of people accused of either mail or wire fraud and take from that only that they stand accused of fraud. Mail fraud might seem easy to define (even if you do not understand the unique elements that constitute the crime), yet confusion often exists over what constitutes wire fraud.

While you might not fully understand what goes into a mail or wire fraud charge, you likely assume that you will never come under scrutiny for it. If and when you do, you need to understand what activity qualifies as these crimes so that you can answer the charges against you.

Defining mail and wire fraud

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the definition of mail fraud is fairly simple: using the U.S. mail system to further a fraudulent scheme. The same agency states that wire fraud is much the same, yet rather than using mail as the method to carry out your scheme, you utilize telephones or electronic communications. Yet that definition may leave much open for interpretation. A better explanation of both crimes comes from a more detailed description the DOJ offers for wire fraud:

  • You voluntarily participated in a scheme to defraud another
  • You did so with an intent to defraud
  • It was reasonably foreseeable that the interstate wire (telephone) system (or mail system) would be the delivery mechanism to carry out your scheme
  • The interstate wire system (or mail system) was in fact used

Proving intent

Under that definition, any activity you engage in via the mail or phone that others view as questionable may qualify as fraud. Yet the DOJ goes on to explain that the burden of proof falls on whatever authorities prosecute you to show that you intentionally tried to defraud another with your actions (and that you could not have been operating in good faith).