What is Wire Fraud?

In the Internet age, using a term like “wire” to describe the use of communications devices to commit fraud may sound old-fashioned, but this crime is very much alive and well today, embracing any and all technologies that people may use to defraud others — smartphones, tablets and computers as well as telephones, faxes and even television.

Wire fraud is any fraudulent activity that takes place over communications lines or involves electronic communications. There are four elements to the legal definition of wire fraud:

  • A person or persons created or participated in actions meant to defraud others out of money;
  • The actions were intended to defraud;
  • It was reasonable foreseeable that the perpetrator(s) would use wire communications; and
  • The perpetrator(s) did use interstate wire communications.

One of the most common forms of wire fraud today is phishing, where mass emails are sent out with the intention of gaining unauthorized access to someone else’s bank account or financial information. An infamous example of phishing is the Nigerian prince email, where the sender claims to be a Nigerian prince in exile who needs the recipient’s bank account to deposit his wealth. In exchange, this fictitious prince will pay that person for the use of the account.

Another example of wire fraud is telemarketing fraud. The elderly can often be unwitting targets of this scheme, where a caller may claim to be an elderly person’s relative who is traveling and needs money to get home.

A lesser known example of wire fraud involves public servants who defraud others of “honest services.” Public servants have a duty to provide honest services to others. If they use an interstate communications device to violate those duties, they can be charged with wire fraud, even if no one has actually suffered a monetary loss.

There are several defenses to wire fraud, including the good faith defense whereby a defendant can argue that he or she acted within the law, did not have a financial motive for depriving someone of their property or attempted to rectify the loss once they discovered it. Telephone sales people who use puffery to bolster the sale of their product are likely not guilty of wire fraud unless they totally misrepresent the product they are selling.

Wire fraud is a federal crime and carries harsh penalties if convicted. If you have been charged with wire fraud, you need to speak with a defense attorney skilled in white collar criminal defense as soon as possible.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a boutique law firm focusing on large, complex business and criminal financial-related litigation, including white collar criminal defense, securities fraud, health care fraud investigation, criminal appeals and state criminal defense. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244or dan@cogdell-law.com.

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