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Why is Wire Fraud Generally a Federal Offense?

November 1, 2021 Federal Criminal Attorneys
Why is Wire Fraud Generally a Federal Offense?
Wire fraud involves the use of the internet or another form of telecommunications in order to perpetrate a fraud. These communications may involve phone calls, emails, texts, social media messages, faxes or telegrams as well as other types of communications. It may make use of telephone, fiber optic, cable or SMS messaging and data systems. In almost all cases, wire fraud is a federal offense with punishments that may include fines, federal prison time and parole. If you’re facing charges of wire fraud, it’s important to understand why the investigation and prosecution will typically be done by the federal court system.

Communications Networks

If the perpetration of a crime crosses the border of a state, it will be prosecuted by the federal government. Because the communications networks for phone calls, faxes, texts and the internet typically cross state lines, wire fraud is generally a federal offense. Even if the text message, email, call or fax is from a person in one state to another person in the same state, the communications systems often involve the data passing through a satellite, hub, server or other equipment that is in another state. The person committing the act of wire fraud may not realize that their communication crosses state lines because of the speed of today’s telecommunications systems.

Four Elements of Federal Wire Fraud Charges

There are four required elements of a federal wire fraud charge. According to Investopedia, the first element is that the defendant voluntarily and with purpose devised, planned or participated in a scheme intended to defraud another individual of their money. The second element states that the defendant engaged in this scheme with the intent to commit fraud. The third element describes the reasonable and foreseeable expectation that interstate wire communications would be used in the fraudulent act. The last element of a wire fraud charge stipulates that the defendant did use wire communications that crossed state lines. These four elements are described in more detail in the United States Department of Justice Criminal Resource Manual Section 941.18 U.S.C. 1343.

History of Wire Fraud

Although telegrams faxes have been around for a while, other types of data transmissions that cross lines between states are much newer. Although the traditional phone call is still a popular method of committing wire fraud, the internet makes this crime much easier to conduct. Online messages through social media or email have overtaken the old-fashioned phone call for acts of wire fraud. One example of wire fraud is the so-called “Nigerian Prince Scam.” This involves an email purportedly from a Nigerian prince in exile. The prince needs to quickly disburse his money, and he wants to send it to you. The catch is you must wire some of it back for his trouble. A newer version of this scam is the grandchild in jail. A person pretends to be someone’s grandchild or other family member who is stranded, stuck in jail or in some other dire circumstance and needs money now. They send the fraudulent message through social media or an email after hacking into the account. The message asks for the wire of money in order to free the individual from jail.

Statute of Limitations for Wire Fraud Charges

The investigation of wire fraud is complicated. The federal code imposes a statute of limitations for authorities to press charges for this crime. If the wire fraud’s target was an individual or a business not in the financial services industry, the statute of limitations is five years. If the defendant committed wire fraud against a financial institution, the federal government has a statute of limitations of 10 years to prosecute the crime.

Prosecution of Federal Wire Fraud Charges

Like other federal crimes, a person need not be successful in order to be convicted of the crime. Even if the person intended to defraud another individual or a business, they can be charged and convicted of wire fraud. If a person acted with the knowledge of sending a fraudulent communication, even if the communication was not received by the target, they may be convicted of wire fraud.

Punishments for a Wire Fraud Conviction

Wire fraud is often referred to as a “white collar” crime because no violence or threat of violence occurs at any time. Even so, this is a serious crime that has the potential for long prison sentences and hefty criminal fines. If a person is convicted of wire fraud, they may face a fine of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. If a business commits wire fraud, the responsible parties or business entity may be ordered to pay fines up to $500,000. If wire fraud is committed under special circumstances, such as a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States, the individual convicted of the crime may face a federal prison sentence of up to 30 years and fines up to $1,000,000.

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