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When Is Wire Fraud Charged as a Federal or State Offense?

 Posted on November 04, 2022 in Criminal Defense

b2ap3_thumbnail_jason_20221104-191409_1.JPGby: Jason Luczak, Patrick Knight and Ray Dall’Osto

There are a number of criminal offenses that are commonly known as "white collar crimes.”  These generally involve the theft of money or misappropriation of funds and other forms of fraud that are committed using non-violent actions. Wire fraud and mail fraud are related offenses that are included in this category. However, many people are unaware of exactly what wire fraud is and what types of actions can result in criminal charges being filed against an individual or business entity. 

Fraud involves taking another person or entity's money, property, or protected information through deceptive means. Unlike traditional theft or robbery, where the victim does not give consent to being deprived of their property, fraud crimes typically involve deception or false pretenses to obtain a victim’s property, where the victim may have thought the transaction was legitimate.  Wire fraud is a type of fraud that uses communication networks, such as the internet, telephone lines, or email. Depending on the specific nature of an offense, the communication networks used, and the victims involved, a person accused of wire fraud may face either federal charges or state criminal charges and civil liability as well.

How Wire Fraud Works

Wire fraud typically involves using or other electronic communications to obtain personal information or money from individuals or businesses. For example, a person might pose as a legitimate company and send an email asking for someone's credit card information. Once they have that information, they can use it to make unauthorized transfers or purchases.

Almost all internet, telephonic and electronic communications are considered to be done in interstate commerce, which means that virtually all wire and mail fraud cases can be prosecuted as federal crimes.  The elements of wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. sec. 1343 directly parallel those of the mail fraud statute (18 U.S.C. but require 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), and United States v. Profit, 49 F.3d 404, 406 n. 1 (8th Cir.) (the four essential elements of the crime of wire fraud are: (1) that the defendant voluntarily and intentionally devised or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money; (2) that the 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). 

Another common type of wire fraud is called phishing. This occurs when someone sends an email or other message that looks like it is from a legitimate source (such as a bank or government agency) but is actually from a fraudulent source. The message may contain links that lead to fake websites designed to obtain personal information. This may allow a person to obtain someone's login information, enabling the fraudster to access confidential personal data that can be used to commit actual theft or fraudulent transfers and identity theft.

Consequences of Wire Fraud

Federal jurisdiction exists to prosecute almost all wire fraud crimes if a fraudulent scheme involves the transmission of information in interstate or international commerce (which is virtually every electronic communication).   For example, if a person in one state contacts one or more people in another state over the internet with the intent of defrauding them and stealing money, property, or personal information, they may face federal wire fraud charges. A conviction for this offense may lead to a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and if fraud involves a financial institution or benefits available to victims of major disasters or national emergencies, a person may face a prison sentence of up to 30 years, as well as fines of up to $1 million.  

While jurisdiction exists to prosecute almost all wire fraud at the federal level, many state criminal laws afford concurrent jurisdiction and some white collar cases are charged in state court.  In Wisconsin, multiple types of state-level charges may apply in a case involving elements of wire fraud.  Identity theft and forgery, as well as various charges of theft may apply.  A person may be charged with fraud against a financial institution if they access or obtain money that is under the control of a bank, obtain credit, or otherwise gain a benefit from a financial institution through false representations. The charges for this offense range from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class F felony, depending on the value of the property obtained through fraud.  A charge of fraud against a financial institution could be brought if a person is accused of impersonating a bank or falsely claiming that they work for a financial institution, which is a Class H felony. A person may be charged with wire fraud against a financial institution if they transmit data electronically with the intent of committing a financial crime, which is also a Class H felony.

Contact Our Milwaukee, WI White Collar Crime Defense Lawyers

Wire and mail fraud charges are serious offenses, and the penalties upon conviction can be severe. If you have been accused of wire fraud, it is important to get experienced legal help from an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney, who can help you navigate the legal process and defend your rights. At Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP, LLP, we defend clients charged with both federal and state crimes. To get the legal help and representation you need, call us today at 414-271-1440.



Mail and Wire Fraud Overview https://crsreports.congress.gov/products/pdf/R/R41930





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