Wire Fraud

Wire fraud is a federal crime involving a scheme to defraud a third party by electronic communications. It can come in the form of internet scams, hacking, phishing, telemarketing fraud, or other type of fraudulent scheme.

The elements of wire fraud are similar to mail fraud’s elements. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1343. However, wire fraud requires the use of an interstate telephone call or electronic communication made in furtherance of the scheme. United States v. Briscoe, 65 F.3d 576, 583 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing United States v. Ames Sintering Co., 927 F.2d 232, 234 (6th Cir. 1990); United States v. Frey, 42 F.3d 795, 797 (3d Cir. 1994) (wire fraud is identical to mail fraud statute except that it speaks of communications transmitted by wire); United States v. Profit, 49 F.3d 404, 406 n. 1 (8th Cir.) The elements of wire fraud include: (1) defendant voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money; (2) defendant did so with the intent to defraud; (3) that it was reasonably foreseeable that interstate wire communications would be used; and (4) that interstate wire communications were in fact used. (citing Manual of Model Criminal Jury Instructions for the District Courts of the Eighth Circuit 6.18.1341 (West 1994)), cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 2289 (1995); United States v. Hanson, 41 F.3d 580, 583 (10th Cir. 1994) (two elements comprise the crime of wire fraud: (1) a scheme or artifice to defraud; and (2) use of interstate wire communication to facilitate that scheme); United States v. Faulkner, 17 F.3d 745, 771 (5th Cir. 1994) (essential elements of wire fraud are: (1) a scheme to defraud and (2) the use of, or causing the use of, interstate wire communications to execute the scheme), cert. denied, 115 S.Ct. 193 (1995); United States v. Cassiere, 4 F.3d 1006 (1st Cir. 1993) (to prove wire fraud government must show (1) scheme to defraud by means of false pretenses, (2) defendant's knowing and willful participation in scheme with intent to defraud, and (3) use of interstate wire communications in furtherance of scheme); United States v. Maxwell, 920 F.2d 1028, 1035 (D.C. Cir. 1990). So, in short, wire fraud requires proof of the following: (1) a scheme to defraud; and (2) the use of an interstate wire communication to further the scheme.

The federal statute that defines wire fraud states that: "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, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, 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 - as those terms are defined in section 102 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act under 42 U.S.C. § 5122 - or affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both."

There are specific defenses to mail and wire fraud charges such as withdrawal from the scheme. So, in short, a defendant may be able to assert an affirmative defense by proving that he or she withdrew from the scheme by acting in contrary to the scheme’s objective and communicating the withdrawal to the co-defendants.

State Laws:

In general, each state maintains its own set of laws to address wire fraud, often mirroring or augmenting federal statutes. State laws typically criminalize fraudulent schemes conducted through electronic communications that affect residents within their jurisdiction. Penalties for wire fraud convictions under state laws vary but often include fines, imprisonment, restitution to victims, and forfeiture of ill-gotten gains. States may also collaborate with federal authorities to investigate and prosecute cases involving wire fraud, particularly when the fraudulent activities cross state lines or involve federal interests.

Federal Laws:

The federal government has established several statutes specifically targeting wire fraud. One of the primary laws addressing this offense is the Wire Fraud Statute, codified under 18 U.S.C. § 1343. This statute prohibits the use of wire, radio, or television communications in furtherance of any scheme to defraud. It encompasses a broad range of fraudulent activities conducted via interstate or international channels.

Federal wire fraud charges can result in severe penalties, including substantial fines and lengthy prison sentences. Additionally, convicted individuals may be required to pay restitution to victims and forfeit assets acquired through fraudulent means. Prosecutions under federal wire fraud laws are typically handled by agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

International Laws:

In an increasingly interconnected world, wire fraud often transcends national borders, posing challenges for law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute perpetrators effectively. International cooperation and treaties play a crucial role in addressing cross-border wire fraud.

Organizations such as the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) facilitate collaboration among law enforcement agencies from different countries to combat various forms of transnational crime, including wire fraud. Additionally, Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) enable governments to request and provide assistance in gathering evidence, locating suspects, and executing legal processes across jurisdictions.

Despite these efforts, prosecuting wire fraud cases with an international component can be complex due to differences in legal systems, jurisdictional issues, and varying levels of cooperation between countries. However, advancements in technology and increased global awareness of the risks associated with wire fraud have led to enhanced international cooperation in combating this type of crime.

Wire fraud poses significant threats to individuals, businesses, and economies worldwide, necessitating robust legal frameworks at the state, federal, and international levels to address and deter such criminal activities. While laws and enforcement mechanisms continue to evolve to keep pace with technological advancements and global connectivity, combating wire fraud effectively requires collaborative efforts among governments, law enforcement agencies, financial institutions, and other stakeholders. By strengthening legal frameworks, enhancing investigative capabilities, and promoting international cooperation, societies can better protect themselves against the pervasive threat of wire fraud and uphold the integrity of electronic communications and financial systems.