Mail Fraud FAQs

What is mail fraud?

Mail fraud is an act of fraud that uses the United States Postal Service (e.g. making false representations through the mail) to obtain an economic advantage. Fraud is a knowing misrepresentation of the truth or concealment of a material fact to induce to another to act to his or her detriment.

What sorts of things constitute mail fraud?

It is a crime to use the postal system to carry out any sort of scheme designed to defraud someone. The statute makes reference not only to the United States Postal Service, but also to “any private or commercial interstate carrier.”

What are the essential elements of mail fraud?

Mail fraud has just two elements: (1) a scheme to defraud; and (2) a mailing to carry out the scheme.

Is materiality required for a mail fraud conviction?

As with wire fraud described in the previous FAQ, materiality is also a requirement for mail fraud.

The Court has defined a material misrepresentation as one capable of influencing or having a “natural tendency” to influence the making of a decision. Here is what the Court has written: for there to be a material misrepresentation of a fact, it has to be expected that a reasonable man would attach importance to its existence or nonexistence in deciding what to do regarding the transaction in question . . . or, the maker of the misrepresentation knows or has reason to know that its recipient regards or is likely to regard the matter as important in deciding what to do in the transaction, even though a reasonable man would not.

In other words, if a person knows that he is causing someone to think something is happening in a transaction other than what is truly occurring – even if he never actually tells a verbal lie – that constitutes a material misrepresentation

What kind of punishment could result from a violation of section 1341?

Conviction can result in a fine, up to twenty years in prison, or both.

As with wire fraud, a distinction is made for violations that affect a financial institution. The punishment in this instance can consist of a fine not to exceed $1,000,000, up to 30 years in prison, or both.

Is there more to the law than just using the mail to commit the crime?

Another part of the law relates to mail fraud tangentially by addressing identity theft. Under this section of the law, it’s a crime to use the mail in any fraudulent scheme that involves any fictitious, false, or assumed title, name, or address. This statute also covers the taking or receiving from any post office or authorized depository any letter, postcard, package, etc., addressed to a fictitious party.

What is the exact relationship between those two laws?

For there to be a conviction under the identity theft section of the mail fraud law, the government has to prove a violation of basic mail fraud first.

What’s the punishment for violating the identity theft section of the mail fraud law?

A violation can result in a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

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