The federal laws of the United States prohibit the use of wire, radio, or television to commit Fraud or a similar scheme. Officially referred to as Wire Fraud, the U.S. Congress decided to ban this type of criminal activity in 1952 with passage of the Communications Act Amendment.
From a legal standpoint, the Federal Wire Fraud statute is an almost exact replica to the federal mail fraud statute, which dates back to 1872. But as technology evolved in the 20th century, it became clear that a similar statute was needed to prevent criminal activity that preyed on victims using wire, radio, or television. More recently, the federal wire fraud statute can even apply to certain types of fraud and misrepresentation perpetrated through the Internet and other digital methods of communication.
Any person who commits wire fraud can face severe consequences under U.S. federal law, including prison time and criminal fines. To understand the precise boundaries of federal wire fraud, it will be necessary to review applicable legal elements and criminal penalties.
Legal Elements of Federal Wire Fraud
18 U.S. Code Section 1343 establishes the elements of a federal wire fraud offense. Under this section, it qualifies as wire fraud when a person:
- Intends to defraud someone else of money or property;
- Employs false promises, representations, or pretenses;
- Transmits a communication in interstate or foreign commerce; and
- Uses wire, radio, or television to execute the fraud crime.
Criminal Penalties for Federal Wire Fraud
Section 1343 also highlights the criminal penalties for federal wire fraud offenses. From a general standpoint, any person who commits federal wire fraud can face significant criminal fines and a 20-year prison sentence. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a conviction can result in either or both of those penalties.
Furthermore, Section 1343 provides a separate penalty structure for wire fraud offenses affecting banks and financial institutions. The same is true for any wire fraud offense that relates to major disasters and emergencies, as defined under 42 U.S. Code Section 5122. In either of those cases, a wire fraud conviction can result in a maximum of $100,000 in criminal fines and 30 years in prison, either or both.
Finally, 18 U.S. Code Section 1349 addresses the penalties applicable to any person who attempts or conspires to commit wire fraud. Even if such a person is unsuccessful in their attempt – or directs someone else to carry out the crime – they will face the same criminal penalties outlined above.
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