Understanding federal wire fraud charges

On Behalf of | Jan 16, 2018 | Federal Crimes, White Collar Crimes |

Wire fraud is a federal crime that consists of using an interstate communications device in the course of pursuing a scheme to defraud a person or entity of any type of item of value. Even though the law refers to the crime as wire fraud, it also includes wireless communications such as cell phones.

Calling, texting or e-mailing as part of a scheme to defraud can trigger this federal charge.

Intent to defraud

In this context, a scheme to defraud generally means intentionally using misrepresentation in order to get someone to give up property or anything else with monetary value. Intent is a key element. Thus, someone who participates in a scheme thinking it is a legitimate business operation is not committing the crime of wire fraud. Of course, in some cases, it can be easier than in others for prosecutors to convince juries that the defendant must have understood the act involved fraud.

Must have goal of financial gain

In addition, there must be misrepresentation that specifically aims to induce someone to give up property. Simply lying about something that would not affect the transaction is not enough. In some cases, there may be a question as to whether the defendant simply used exaggerated language that reasonable people would understand was not meant literally.

Charges can be valid even if there was no profit

You can see from the definitions above that it is possible to be guilty of wire fraud even if the prospective target did not end up losing money. Simply taking action to further the scheme is enough for wire fraud charges.

Multiple counts can be easy to get

Because the crime consists of using an interstate communication device, you can face charges for every time prosecutors allege you did this. For example, someone who sends 15 texts related to a fraudulent scheme can face 15 counts of wire fraud.

Wire fraud charges as catch-all

Prosecutors often use wire fraud charges when they believe someone committed other fraud crimes but they do not have enough evidence to pursue charges on those. Many federal white-collar crimes, such as insider trading, have very specific definitions, and prosecutors may not always have the evidence to back up every element.