Federal wire fraud is a serious criminal charge that can result in severe penalties. Wire fraud also often comes along with other types of federal charges that can include a variety of allegations, from drug trafficking to investment fraud.
Generally, wire fraud consists of a fraudulent scheme that intends to deprive a person or entity of property and uses interstate or international electronic transmissions to advance its purposes. Although the statute names wire, radio and television communications, current law also includes internet and cell communication. Thus, texts and online posts will typically count for the purposes of these charges.
When addressing the element of international or interstate communication, one should be aware that today's technology does not even require the two people communicating to be in different states. If the messages go through servers located in a different state or country, this may suffice to meet the statute's requirements.
Additionally, to get a conviction, prosecutors must prove the defendant intended to participate in the scheme and defraud the targets. Thus, the defendant must be aware of the scheme and that his or her actions would advance it. On the other hand, the defendant does not have to know whether the communications used were interstate or international. The prosecution only needs to prove he or she, in fact, used these communications in the course of participating in the scheme.
The communications do not need to play a major role in the fraudulent scheme. Examples of actions that could trigger wire fraud charges include emailing a fraudulent solicitation or submitting a fraudulent bill online.
A fraudulent scheme generally involves a plan to induce another person or entity to give up property based on false representations. Some common examples include overbilling, misrepresenting the nature of an item for sale or creating invoices for services that were not provided. Typically, common sales exaggerations would not constitute fraud; people usually do not face charges for claiming their product is the best in town, or similar expressions.
Conviction for wire fraud can result in high fines and imprisonment of up to 20 years for each count. If the crime involved a financial institution or a major disaster, fines could range up to $1,000,000, and the term of imprisonment can increase up to 30 years.