It’s illegal under federal law to use electronic communications to defraud someone else of money or property.

Doing so is the crime of wire fraud.

As you might’ve noticed, this definition is very broad. Wire fraud covers everything from telemarketing scams to phishing, internet schemes and even smaller state-level crimes that can become wire fraud due to the use of electronic communications.

As a federal crime, wire fraud is very serious. It’s punishable by up to 20 years in prison for each act of wire fraud that was found to be committed. This means that if you have been accused of multiple acts of wire fraud, you could face multiple 20-year sentences.

If you suspect that you or someone you love is under investigation for wire fraud, it’s important to speak with a federal defense attorney as soon as possible. It can help safeguard your freedom.

What is wire fraud?

In order to convict you of wire fraud, the prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that certain facts in the case were true. These are known as the “elements of the crime.” 

While the precise list of elements can vary between federal districts, we can generally sum up the elements as:

  1. The defendant participated in a scheme to commit fraud. They must show that you planned to use a false statement, promise, or misrepresentation in order to obtain money or something of value from someone else.
  2. The defendant had specific intent to commit fraud. In other words, you can’t accidentally commit wire fraud. The prosecution has to show that you knew about the scheme, understood it and voluntarily participated in it.
  3. There was use of wire, radio or television communication to further the scheme. This can include just about anything, from fax machines to the internet, email, telephones and even wiring money.

A classic example of a wire fraud scheme is the “Nigerian prince scam.” A person sends an email to another person claiming to be a deposed Nigerian prince, who needs help accessing his family’s fortune. 

The scammer asks the target to send their bank information to help with the transaction — and for a piece of the reward. The scammer then uses the bank information to drain the target’s account.

Penalties for wire fraud

As we mentioned above, you’ll be charged for each act of wire fraud that the government believes has taken place. For each count of wire fraud, you could face:

  • Up to 20 years in federal prison
  • Up to $250,000 in fines for individuals
  • Up to $500,000 in fines for organizations

If the scheme involves a presidentially declared disaster or a financial institution (bank fraud), your penalties could increase to:

  • Up to 30 years in federal prison
  • Up to $1 million in fines

Defenses against wire fraud charges

It’s not uncommon for normally law abiding people to find themselves in legal trouble for wire fraud, because they had been tricked into participating in a wire fraud scheme.

“This man is a very effective criminal defense attorney. I was charged but I never had to go to court because the case was thrown out thanks to his efforts. I was very worried because I didn’t know anyone who could confirm my location, but he was able to prove that I was innocent.”
Jason, CA

As we mentioned above, prosecutors have to show that you had “specific intent” to participate in the wire fraud scheme. If you were misled or didn’t understand that you were committing fraud, the government cannot and should not convict you.

This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced federal defense attorney. Your attorney will be able to review the facts and evidence of the case and will work to craft the best defense for your situation. Even if you haven’t been formally charged and simply believe that you might be under investigation or a person of interest, an attorney can help you understand your situation and safeguard your freedoms as it unfolds.

Robert M. Helfend is a federal defense attorney who has practiced since 1984, securing thousands of favorable judgments for his clients in that time. He is rated in the National Trial Lawyers Top 100, SuperLawyers and Lead Counsel. Call today for your free case evaluation — 805-273-5611.