What Is Mail Fraud: Penalties, Examples and Other Related Crimes
I’ve been blessed to live in the same place for a very long time. We have community mailboxes or a group of mailboxes together that we go to each day to collect our mail.
Over the years, who knows how many pieces of mail have come to my house that belong to someone else? I really couldn’t tell you, too many to count.
Sometimes they are my neighbors and other times they belong to random people I’ve never heard of. This has happened over and over again, and I, being a decent person, have tried to get this mail to the people it belongs to.
So over the years, I’ve learned a little about the mail.
But besides trying to get the mail that doesn’t belong to me to the rightful owners I’ve also learned that not everyone is doing the right thing.
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many, many stories where mail fraud was prevalent and mailboxes being broken into was more common.
People were getting everything via the mail from either The United States Post Office, UPS, or Fedex.
If you’re like me you may already be an Amazon junkie, I know during COVID my package ratio increases many times. I mean when you’re bored at home, there’s nothing like shopping online right? But what happens when the packages are stolen by porch pirates as they have been dubbed?
What if you’re the porch pirate?
Mail theft and mail fraud are big issues in Nevada.
When mail is stolen and used to defraud or steal someone else’s property or identity it is a federal crime punishable by long prison sentences. Because mail moves over the entire country the government regulates the mail service and therefore crimes committed involving the mail are federal.
The Federal Law That Governs Mail Fraud
18 U.S.C. 1341§ 1341 states:
“Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises or sell, dispose of ,loan, exchange, alter, give away, distribute, supply, or furnish or procure for unlawful use any counterfeit or spurious coin, obligation, security, or other article, or anything represented to be or intimated or held out to be such counterfeit or spurious article, for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice or attempting so to do, places in any post office or authorized depository for mail matter, any matter or thing whatever to be sent or delivered by the Postal Service, or deposits or causes to be deposited any matter or thing whatever to be sent or delivered by any private or commercial interstate carrier, or takes or receives therefrom, any such matter or thing, or knowingly causes to be delivered by make or such carrier according to the direction thereon, or at the place at which it is directed to be delivered by the person to whom it is addresses, any such matter or thing, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years or both. If the violation occurs in relation to, or involving any benefit authorized, transported transmitted, transferred, disbursed, or paid in connection with, a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency, or affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1 million dollars or imprisoned more than 30 years”.
We don’t expect to read all of that but that is The Federal Law regarding mail fraud.
Basically stealing the mail to steal identity or money or sending anything illegal in the mail is a federal crime and if you’re stealing money from an emergency fund the penalties are much harsher.
What is Mail Fraud?
Mail fraud is using or stealing mail to defraud another. Since this is a federal crime, it must contain four elements, without one of the four the crime cannot be considered mail fraud:
- Fraudulent Scheme-There was a scheme in place to deprive another or business of property, money, or honest services for example trying to obtain trade secrets via the mail.
- There was intent by the defendant to defraud
- Material Misrepresentation of the truth
- The defendant used the mail system to defraud
We have seen many mail fraud schemes over the years from phony charities to sweepstake scams.
A lot of these schemes use marketing or religion to get the victim interested in what they might otherwise be suspicious of. I’ve seen some late-night infomercials where a preacher offers me some “Miracle Spring Water” while asking for a donation.
While this isn’t illegal because it offers something and falls under the protected status of religion but let’s be honest, the miracle spring water is tap water and he’s asking for money.
Under any other circumstances (i.e. outside religion), this would be considered the crime of mail fraud.
What Are the Penalties for Mail Fraud
Mail fraud is a federal crime so the penalties are federal in nature. If you are convicted of regular mail fraud then you can be sentenced with the following:
- Up to 20 years in Federal prison
- A fine to be determined by the judge
If the mail fraud is related to federal disaster relief funds or involves a bank or other financial institution then the sentence could be:
- Up to 30 years in federal prison
- And up to a fine of $1,000,000
In all cases, the court may order the defendant to pay restitution to the victims
What Are the Defenses Against the Charges
Your defense team will most likely use the three following defenses against the charges:
- No intent to defraud-you had no intent, this is intangible and often difficult to prove. The prosecution must prove intent with evidence. Proving intent involves a person’s state of mind or that you intended to defraud the victim. If this can’t be proven then the charges should be dropped
- No use of the mail– Even if you were doing an illegal activity, you must have used the mail in some form to be convicted of mail fraud. The evidence should include mail slips, tracking numbers or mail workers testifying. If no evidence of use of the mail exists, the charges should be dismissed.
- Illegal police search-In a lot of criminal cases including mail fraud police search and seizure can come into question and be used as a defense. Even if you actually committed the crime but the evidence against was retrieved illegally then you can have the evidence thrown out and the jury will have to disregard making it impossible to convict. A good defense team will always investigate this as a possibility because it happens more often than you think.
What Are the Defenses Against the Charge
Unlike most state laws including Nevada, where most criminal records can be sealed, Federal Mail Fraud charges cannot be sealed and will be on your record for the rest of your life.
This could hinder you getting a job in the future, or even keeping you from getting an apartment or a home. Something to think about when hiring a defense team.
Related Crimes to Mail Fraud
Instead of using snail mail to commit fraud, you are using wire services such as Western Union or the internet to commit a scheme. We have all heard the stories about the people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone claiming to be in love with them but they have never met or seen the person. While this may seem crazy, it does happen every day to unsuspecting victims. The penalties for wire fraud are the same as for mail fraud.
This is when a defendant intends to defraud a financial institution like a bank. This includes identity theft, fund diversion and phishing. The penalties for bank fraud are significantly higher than for regular mail fraud.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Mail Fraud a Federal Crime or State Crime?
Both, but it is most often prosecuted as a federal crime.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Mail Fraud?
The statute of limitations for mail fraud and wire fraud prosecutions is five years, except in the case of schemes that affect a financial institution, where it is ten years (ref. 18 U.S.C. § 3282 and 18 U.S.C. § 3293).
Can I Be Charged If I Didn’t Actually Send Anything Through the Mail?
Yes, even if you didn’t actually send anything through the mail but used the postal service to further your scheme you can be charged with mail fraud.
What Are the Penalties for Mail Fraud?
The penalties for mail fraud can be up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $1,000,000 depending on the circumstances.
Can I Seal My Record If I’m Convicted of Mail Fraud?
No, you cannot seal your record if you are convicted of mail fraud. It is a federal crime and will stay on your record for life.
Why Hire The Defenders
Mail fraud, or any type of fraud, is a serious crime to be charged with and as you can see the consequences can be severe.
If you have been charged with mail fraud in Nevada you need a defense team with experience and resources to investigate and defend your case the best way possible. We have years of experience in criminal law.
Our team of lawyers and investigators will make your case a priority, we work for our clients.
We will let you know what to expect when you come in for a free case review.
We take on all types of criminal cases including, mail fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud and other crimes.
Our team will investigate the charges against you thoroughly and come up with an appropriate defense strategy.
In some cases, we can get the charges reduced or dropped depending on the circumstances of the case.
Call The Defenders today for a free case review.