Almost everyone in California who has an email account has probably received a message from a “Nigerian Prince” at some point. The infamous Nigerian Prince scam is one of the oldest examples of wire fraud, and this familiar scam has cost gullible Americans millions of dollars.
Definition of wire fraud
Wire fraud is a fraud that is perpetrated using the Internet or telecommunications. Phone calls, fax messages, emails, texts and social media messages are all examples of communications systems that can be used to commit wire fraud. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Resource Manual, key elements of wire fraud include the intention to defraud another person out of money using wire communications systems.
Mail and wire fraud are similar and might both be used in the same fraudulent scheme. However, the main difference is that mail fraud uses the postal service while wire fraud uses digital communications systems.
Punishment for wire fraud
A wire fraud conviction carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,000 for individuals. Organizations that commit wire fraud can face fines as high as $500,000.
There are special circumstances that can increase the maximum sentence for wire fraud. If a financial institution is the intended target of a wire fraud scheme, for example, a convicted person can be fined up to $1 million and sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. There is also elevated sentencing for wire fraud when it involves special circumstances such as a state of emergency that was declared by the president.
The fraud doesn’t have to be successful
Wire fraud schemes that fail can still result in charges being filed. For example, a person who is caught sending out thousands of Nigerian Prince scam emails could face charges for wire fraud even if there were no victims who lost money. People that are charged need a robust criminal defense strategy since it is a serious federal crime.