The Elements of Mail Fraud

by elizabeths on January 17, 2013

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(US criminal law) Mail fraud is a federal crime in which the perpetrator develops a scheme using the U.S. mail system to defraud another of money or property. Such a crime typically involves a person or company obtaining money or anything of value from a victim by offering a product, service or investment opportunity that doesn’t live up to claims. In order for a case to be considered mail fraud, there must be two elements present: the facts surrounding the offer were intentionally misrepresented, and the U.S. Mail was relied on to carry out the scheme.

The Mail Fraud Statute was enacted in 1872 to prevent illicit, fraudulent schemes that developed through the Postal Service. It is the nation’s oldest federal consumer protection statute, and is designed to fight white-collar fraud and to protect service representation.

Mail fraud typically occurs in one of three ways. The first, and most common, is non-delivery or misrepresentation of mail-order merchandise. This type of mail fraud is becoming more and more common as online shopping increases in popularity. It happens either when a victim places an order for an online item, pays for it and never receives it, or when an individual receives and signs for the wrong item therefore agreeing to pay for it.

A second way mail fraud occurs is through impersonation. This involves a person or company acting as a trusted source, and requesting personal information from an unsuspecting victim. When the victim sends back their information to what they believe to be a credible company such as their bank, they are at risk of identity theft. Another way perpetrators commit mail fraud through impersonation is when they pose as a charity or religious representative, and ask for “donations.” This most commonly occurs after a well-known crisis such as a national disaster, when people are more aware of the tragedy and apt to give to those in need.

The third common way mail fraud is committed is through promotional coupons. In this situation, an individual will receive a check or coupon in the mail from a company that offers a one-time free service or considerable discount, however in very small print there will be listed terms of agreement and extra fees that the person will be required to pay.

The United States Postal Inspection Service is responsible for carrying out investigations of any person or business that is suspected of engaging in fraudulent and deceptive activity via U.S. Mail. The Postal Service may sue such a promoter if Postal Inspectors gather enough evidence to prove guilt. If a judge rules that the promotion violates the Mail Fraud Statute, a false representation order (FRO) will be issued by the Judicial Officer of the Postal Service of the city in which the crime was carried out. An FRO will cut off any future funds that the promoter may receive in connection with the promotion. Although Postal Inspectors may seek prosecutive or administrative action against a mail fraud violator, they cannot guarantee that a victim of mail fraud receives a full refund of any funds that have been lost in the process.The statute doesn’t provide a judge with the authority to order refunds of already obtained money.

Because a FRO typically takes time to resolve, a court may issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to be carried out during the duration in which the investigation is underway and the FRO is being initiated. This will keep consumers’ money from reaching the promoter by allowing a postmaster to detain incoming mail in connection with the promotion.

Court can be avoided when Postal Inspectors ask a promoter to sign a consent agreement to discontinue their promotion. Unlike what is ordered in a court hearing, the agreement requires the promoter to return all fraudulently appropriated funds to any victim that requests it.

Penalties for those convicted of mail fraud is a fine and/or imprisonment for no more than five years. The punishment increases if the mail fraud affects a financial institution.The statute states that “the person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 and/or imprisoned not more than 30 years.”

Barnes Law LLP
Federal Criminal Lawyer
601 South Figueroa Street, #4050
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 330-3341




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