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Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 12:31 am
Responding to Target Letters From the USPIS: Mail and Wire Fraud Cases
Getting a target letter from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service can be scary. It likely means you’re being investigated for mail or wire fraud. But don’t panic! With the right legal help, you can get through this.
In this article, we’ll explain what target letters are, what they mean, and most importantly—how to respond to one. We’ll also give tips to protect yourself going forward. Let’s dig in!
What is a Target Letter?
A target letter is a letter sent by a prosecutor or federal agent to someone involved in an investigation. It informs you that you’re a “target” of an investigation and at risk of being charged with a crime.
With mail and wire fraud cases, target letters often come from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). They’re trying to get you to cooperate and come in “with your attorney—rather than go down the difficult path of being indicted without any advanced notice or opportunity to cooperate”.
What Does it Mean to Get One?
Getting a target letter means the USPIS has evidence implicating you in mail or wire fraud. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be charged. In fact, in many cases, “no charges are ever brought”.
So try not to panic. The letter is meant to scare you into cooperating with the investigation. That doesn’t mean you’re definitely guilty or will be prosecuted.
What are Mail and Wire Fraud?
Mail and wire fraud are federal crimes that involve using the mail system or electronic communications to commit fraud. According to federal law, mail or wire fraud happens when someone:
- Devises a scheme to defraud another out of money or property, AND
- Uses the mail or electronic communications to execute or further that scheme
Some examples include:
- Telemarketing fraud
- Fake lotteries or sweepstakes
- Online auction scams
- Identity theft
- Charity scams
Penalties for conviction can include fines up to $1 million and up to 30 years in prison. But again, getting a target letter doesn’t mean you’ll be convicted or even charged.
What Should You Do if You Get a Target Letter?
If you receive a target letter regarding mail or wire fraud, here are some tips:
- Don’t panic – The letter sounds scarier than it is. Take a breath.
- Don’t respond directly – Don’t call or write back without legal counsel.
- Consult a lawyer – Get legal help immediately from an experienced federal defense lawyer. This is critical.
- Don’t destroy evidence – That can get you charged with obstruction of justice.
- Assert your rights – Politely decline to speak or provide evidence without your lawyer present.
- Consider cooperation – Your lawyer can discuss the pros/cons of cooperating with prosecutors.
The most important step is getting experienced legal help right away. An attorney can advise you on the best response. They can also interact with investigators on your behalf.
How Can a Lawyer Help With a Target Letter?
A knowledgeable federal defense lawyer can provide enormous help if you get a target letter. Here are some of the ways they can assist:
- Assess the strength of the government’s case
- Negotiate with prosecutors on your behalf
- Advise you on whether to cooperate
- Make sure your rights are protected
- Craft the best defense strategy
- Work to get charges reduced or dismissed
Having an attorney ensures you don’t say or do anything to accidentally incriminate yourself. They act as an intermediary with investigators. And they’ll fight tirelessly on your behalf.
What’s the Process After Getting a Target Letter?
After you receive a target letter, here’s a general overview of what may happen next:
- You consult an attorney who contacts prosecutors.
- Your lawyer works to get more information about the case.
- They negotiate/interact with investigators on your behalf.
- You decide whether or not to cooperate with prosecutors.
- Your attorney fights against charges if they get filed.
- They defend you all the way through trial if it goes that far.
With an aggressive legal defense, many cases don’t make it past the investigation phase. Skilled lawyers can get charges dismissed or reduced. But the key is taking action quickly after getting a target letter.
Can You Go to Jail for Mail or Wire Fraud?
Yes, you can go to jail for mail or wire fraud. Exact penalties depend on specifics of the case. But potential consequences include:
- Up to 20 years in federal prison
- Fines up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for organizations
- Restitution to victims
These are maximum penalties though. Punishment often depends on:
- Your criminal history
- The scope of the fraud
- How much money was involved
- Whether you accept responsibility
An experienced attorney fights to get you the lightest sentence possible. In some cases, they can even get charges dropped entirely.
Can You Go to Jail Just for Getting a Target Letter?
No, you can’t go to jail simply for getting a target letter. The letter just means you’re being investigated and at risk of being charged.
Many investigations begun with target letters never lead to criminal charges. But it’s still vital to take the letter seriously and consult a lawyer immediately.
Takeaways for Responding to a Mail/Wire Fraud Target Letter
Here are some key takeaways if you receive a target letter related to mail or wire fraud:
- Don’t panic, but don’t ignore it
- Be polite if investigators contact you, but avoid talking without a lawyer
- Hire an experienced federal defense attorney right away
- Follow your lawyer’s advice about responding/cooperating
- Your lawyer can negotiate with prosecutors on your behalf
- An aggressive legal defense may get charges reduced or dismissed
While scary, a target letter doesn’t mean your case is hopeless. Smart legal moves early on can make a huge difference. So get skilled legal help immediately if you receive one.
How Can You Avoid Mail and Wire Fraud Charges?
Here are some tips to avoid facing mail or wire fraud charges:
- Be truthful in all communications
- Accurately represent products/services you sell
- Don’t make false promises or claims
- Honor refund policies and guarantees
- Protect customers’ personal and financial data
- Avoid “get-rich-quick” or “too good to be true” schemes
- Be transparent about costs, risks and limitations
Essentially, be an ethical and honest business person. Never intentionally mislead or deceive. And refrain from cutting corners or questionable conduct. That’s the best way to steer clear of mail and wire fraud allegations.
What Should You Do if You’re Being Investigated?
If you learn you’re under investigation for mail/wire fraud, here are some tips:
- Be polite if investigators contact you, but avoid talking without an attorney present.
- Don’t destroy any documents or electronic records.
- Hire a lawyer ASAP – let them handle interactions with investigators.
- Follow your attorney’s advice about whether to cooperate or not.
- Your lawyer can work to get charges dismissed or reduced.
- Start gathering exonerating evidence like records that show your innocence.
The most important step is contacting a knowledgeable federal defense lawyer right away. They’ll protect your rights and build the strongest case for your defense.
Can Someone Go to Jail for Opening Your Mail?
Yes, it’s a federal crime for someone to open mail that isn’t addressed to them. According to federal law:
Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter…before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
So opening someone else’s mail can lead to 5 years in prison. If the contents are then used to commit identity theft or other fraud, it can mean even longer sentences.
If you think someone is stealing or tampering with your mail, report it to the USPIS right away. They take mail theft very seriously.
What to Do if You’re a Victim of Mail Fraud
If you’re the victim of a mail fraud scheme, take these steps:
- Contact the USPIS to file a complaint by phone or online.
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Notify your bank if your financial accounts may be compromised.
- Place a fraud alert and get your credit reports to check for identity theft.
- Change online account passwords that may have been compromised.
- Keep all evidence like letters, emails, receipts, etc.
Also watch out for future scams. Unfortunately, fraud victims often get targeted again. Be extra vigilant about sharing personal and financial information going forward.
Can You Go to Jail for Mail Fraud if You’re a Senior Citizen?
Yes. There is no “senior exemption” to mail fraud laws. Anyone who commits mail fraud – regardless of their age – can face criminal penalties.
In fact, senior citizens are frequent targets of certain mail frauds like lottery scams, family imposter schemes, and fraudulent investment pitches.
So if an elderly person gets caught participating in mail fraud, they can certainly go to jail. Age does not protect someone from prosecution.
That said, prosecutors may show some leniency toward seniors, especially if they were victims first. But there are no guarantees. Anyone involved in mail fraud – young or old – potentially faces charges.
Can You Go to Jail for Mail Fraud Against a Company?
Yes, you can go to jail for committing mail fraud against a company. The law prohibits using the mail system to deprive “another” of money or property. It doesn’t specify that the victim has to be an individual person.
“Another” can also refer to a company, organization, government entity, etc. So mail fraud charges can definitely be brought if the victim is a business rather than a person.
Some examples of mail fraud against a company could include:
- Sending fake invoices to a business and collecting payment
- Submitting false medical claims to an insurance company
- Lying on a job application to get hired and steal from the employer
- Mailing counterfeit goods to sell using a company’s brand without authorization
The key is there must be an intent to defraud the business and obtain money or property illegally. Just like with individual victims, companies suffer financial harm and damages from mail fraud schemes.
Penalties can actually be steeper when the victim is a corporation rather than a person. Fines up to $1 million can be imposed for defrauding organizations. So mail fraud against companies is taken very seriously.
Can a Company Be Charged With Mail Fraud?
Yes, companies and organizations can also be charged with mail fraud. If employees engage in mail fraud as part of company operations or for the company’s benefit, the business itself can face prosecution.
Some examples of corporate mail fraud include:
- Mailing falsified financial statements to investors/shareholders
- Submitting inflated bills to insurance companies for reimbursement
- Running a telemarketing scheme to defraud customers
Penalties for a company convicted of mail fraud can include fines up to $500,000. Individual executives involved may also face criminal charges personally.
Prosecutors may go after both the company and specific employees in cases of widespread or systemic mail fraud operations.
Can Someone Press Charges for Mail Fraud?
Individual victims cannot directly press charges for mail fraud. Only federal prosecutors can decide whether to bring mail fraud charges against someone.
That said, victims can report mail fraud to the USPIS and provide evidence. If the USPIS investigates and finds proof of criminal activity, they can refer the case to prosecutors.
Prosecutors have broad discretion in deciding whether to pursue charges or not. Factors like amount of loss, strength of evidence, intent, and public interest are considered.
So while victims can’t directly press charges, reporting fraud and cooperating with investigators makes charges more likely.
Getting a target letter from the USPIS related to mail or wire fraud can be scary. But with an experienced federal defense lawyer, you can effectively respond and protect your rights.
Don’t panic, but do take it seriously. Be polite with investigators but avoid talking without an attorney. Hire a lawyer promptly to interact with prosecutors on your behalf.
While daunting, target letters don’t necessarily mean you’ll be charged or convicted. With smart legal moves, charges can often be reduced or dismissed. So get experienced legal help right away if you receive one.