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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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Fraud Crimes Mail Fraud

By Spodek Law Group | February 14, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 18, 2023)

Last Updated on: 18th October 2023, 09:02 am


Mail Fraud: What It Is and How to Avoid It

Mail fraud is no joke. It’s a serious crime that can land you in prison if you’re caught doing it. But what exactly is mail fraud, and how can you make sure you don’t accidentally commit it? Let’s break it down.

What is Mail Fraud?

The legal definition of mail fraud is anytime someone uses the postal service to carry out a scheme to defraud someone else. This includes things like:

  • Sending fake invoices to try and get people to pay you money they don’t really owe you
  • Sending letters with false information to trick people into sending you money or valuable items
  • Deliberately not delivering mail you were paid to deliver in order to steal the contents

Basically, if you’re using the mail system to intentionally deceive someone for your own gain, you could be charged with mail fraud. And it’s a federal crime, so it’s prosecuted by the U.S. government, not state or local authorities.

Examples of Mail Fraud

Some common mail fraud schemes include:

  • Fake prize letters – Getting a letter that says you won a contest you never entered and you just need to pay a “processing fee” to claim your prize.
  • Overpayment scams – When someone sends you a check for more than they owe you, then asks you to wire back the difference. But the original check bounces.
  • Work-from-home scams – Companies that promise you’ll earn big money working from home, as long as you pay a fee for training or supplies upfront.
  • Fake invoices – Getting a bill in the mail for a product or service you never ordered or received.
  • Charity fraud – Letters asking for donations that pretend to be from real charities but actually just pocket the money.

As you can see, a lot of mail frauds try to get the victim to willingly send money before they realize they’ve been tricked. The criminals use the postal system because it seems more legitimate than a phone call or email.

Penalties for Mail Fraud

Mail fraud is a felony with some pretty stiff penalties attached:

  • Up to 20 years in federal prison
  • Up to $250,000 in fines
  • Probation and restitution payments

The punishment is worse if the fraud victimized multiple people, was committed by someone working for the postal service, or caused substantial financial hardship.

Even if your mail fraud scheme fails, you can still be charged if you intended to deceive people. You don’t have to actually succeed in ripping someone off. Just trying is enough.

Avoiding Accidental Mail Fraud

Most people charged with mail fraud knew exactly what they were doing. But in some cases, well-meaning people get accused by mistake. Here are some tips to avoid accidentally committing mail fraud:

  • Be skeptical of contests and prizes you don’t remember entering.
  • Shred or tear up any checks, account statements, or other financial mail before throwing them out.
  • Never send money to claim a prize. Legitimate contests don’t require you to pay.
  • Don’t deposit checks from strangers or companies you haven’t done business with.
  • Keep careful records of any financial offers you respond to.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Use common sense.

One common innocent mistake is when someone accidentally receives mail at their address that was meant for a previous resident with the same name. If they open it without realizing it’s not for them, they could be accused of mail fraud. So be very careful about opening mail not addressed specifically to you.

What to Do if You’re a Victim

If you realize you’ve been defrauded through the mail, take these steps:

  1. Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to file a mail fraud report at 1-877-876-2455.
  2. Report it to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.
  3. Notify your bank if any fraudulent checks or money orders were involved.
  4. Cancel any credit cards used in the fraud.
  5. Change any passwords that may have been compromised.
  6. Monitor your credit reports for signs of identity theft.

The sooner you act, the better chance you have of recovering any stolen money and avoiding further losses. Save any evidence like fraudulent letters, envelopes, emails, etc. to show investigators.

How to Report Suspected Mail Fraud

If you notice signs that someone is running a mail fraud scheme, or you suspect that someone you know is involved in mail fraud, you can report it to the proper authorities:

  • Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by calling 877-876-2455 or visiting uspis.gov.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at FTCcomplaintassistant.gov.
  • Call the FBI at your local field office or submit a tip online at fbi.gov/tips.

When reporting suspected mail fraud, provide as much detail as possible, including names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, website URLs, and physical evidence. Your information will help law enforcement investigate and prosecute mail fraud cases.

Mail Fraud vs. Wire Fraud

Mail fraud and wire fraud are very similar crimes governed by the same federal fraud statutes. The main difference is:

  • Mail fraud involves using the U.S. Postal Service or private mail carriers.
  • Wire fraud involves electronic communications like telephone, television, Internet, or other forms of electronic communication.

So the same fraud scheme could be considered mail fraud if it used the mail system or wire fraud if it used phones, email, etc. Both are federal felony charges with comparable penalties.

Famous Cases of Mail Fraud

Some of the biggest mail fraud cases include:

  • Bernie Madoff – His Ponzi scheme defrauded thousands of investors out of billions of dollars through fake account statements and other mailings.
  • Enron – Executives were convicted of mail fraud for mailing false financial reports and statements to shareholders and employees.
  • TV pastor Jim Bakker – His ministry was fined $120 million and he went to prison for mail fraud related to selling false promises to donors.
  • Telemarketing scams – Numerous telemarketers have been convicted of mail fraud for sending fraudulent prize letters and sweepstakes information.

These major cases show that mail fraud often goes hand-in-hand with other financial crimes. And in today’s world, most large fraud schemes involve both mail and wire fraud charges.

Defenses Against Mail Fraud Charges

If you’ve been accused of mail fraud, there are a few legal defenses that may help you fight the charges:

  • You lacked criminal intent – If it was all an honest mistake or you were the victim of someone else’s fraud yourself.
  • No use of mail system – If the alleged fraud did not actually involve the U.S. mail or private carriers.
  • No losses occurred – If there were no real victims deprived of money or property.
  • You terminated involvement – If you stopped the scheme before it caused any harm.

Having an experienced white collar criminal defense attorney argue one of these defenses on your behalf may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Final Thoughts

Mail fraud is not a crime to take lightly. It comes with stiff penalties, especially if multiple victims are involved. The best way to avoid getting in trouble is to use common sense when dealing with any financial offers or prizes that come through the mail. Be very cautious, and don’t hesitate to report any scams or suspicious mail to the proper authorities. With vigilance, we can help stop these fraudsters in their tracks.


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