Mail Fraud

U.S. Federal law contains an extremely broad antifraud provision, 18 U.S.C. §1341 (Part I Chapter 63) which, because it was enacted when the power of the Federal Government was more limited, was confined to acts that in some way used the U.S. Mail (a Federal agency.) A huge number of actions may provide a basis for a charge of mail fraud, provided a single letter or package has been sent via U.S. Mail to an address in the United States in the course of the fraud.  Fraud is defined broadly and openly under the statute:

“devis[ing] 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, or to sell, dispose of, loan, exchange, alter, give away, distribute, supply, or furnish or procure for unlawful use any counterfeit or spurious coin, obligation, security, or other article, or anything represented to be or intimated or held out to be such counterfeit or spurious article, for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice or attempting so to do . . .”

Subsequently a similar provision, known as Wire Fraud (§1343) was enacted, which made criminal such acts if they used the “interstate wires,” i.e., the telephone, radio, or television systems including faxes and probably e-mails, and a third known as Bank Fraud (§1344) now applies to defrauding any federally supervised bank (essentially almost all US banks) or obtaining by fraud any funds in the custody of the bank. In each case, the penalty for the fraud is a fine of up to $1 million and a jail sentence of up to thirty years.

It should be recognized that these Federal fraud statutes are extremely broad and it is very easy to become liable under them, even based on relatively incidental contacts with the United States. See RICO concerning potential civil liability for the fraud.

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