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What is Wire Fraud and What Are the Penalties? 

February 03, 2023

What is Wire Fraud and What Are the Penalties? 

Wire fraud is a serious crime that can carry significant penalties in the event of a conviction. If you have been arrested or charged with wire fraud, you should familiarize yourself with the offense and what potential consequences you may be facing if convicted. 

What is Wire Fraud?

Wire fraud is normally charged as a federal criminal offense because most wired communication takes place over state and international borders and affects interstate commerce. A modern derivative of the crime of mail fraud, wire fraud involves any scheme to defraud another party via electronic communications. The first wire fraud criminal statute was enacted in the 1950s to encompass newer communications technologies such as radio, telephone, and television. While many states have enacted criminal statutes similar to the federal wire fraud statute because many acts of wire fraud end up crossing state or international borders even if the perpetrator and victim are located in the same state, the offense is usually prosecuted at the federal level. 

Today, wire fraud crimes most frequently occur over the internet, so communications to further a fraudulent scheme will usually go through email and internet servers all over the country or the world. Wire fraud is usually charged along with other criminal fraud offenses, such as bank fraud, insurance fraud, credit card fraud, or tax fraud. 

Elements of Wire Fraud

To secure a conviction for wire fraud, a federal prosecutor must prove each element of the criminal offense beyond any reasonable doubt. The basic elements of wire fraud include:

  • The defendant was involved in a scheme to defraud another party. This usually involves obtaining money or something else of value through the use of false pretenses.
  • The defendant made materially false representations to another party in furtherance of the fraudulent scheme.
  • The defendant acted knowingly or with the intent to defraud.
  • The defendant used electronic means to transmit a material misstatement or fraudulent representation via interstate or foreign commerce or communication. 

Importantly, successfully defrauding someone is not an element of the wire fraud offense. Even if you don’t manage to obtain money or something of value from someone else, you can still be convicted of wire fraud so long as you made a fraudulent representation through electronic communications with the intent to defraud someone, or you made an electronic communication knowing that it constituted a fraudulent representation. In most cases, proving intent or knowledge on the part of the defendant is accomplished by showing that defrauding a party was a reasonably foreseeable outcome of the electronic communication. 

Common defenses to a charge of wire fraud include:

  • Lack of intent to defraud
  • Mistake of fact, or making a representation that you reasonably believed to be true that later turned out to be false
  • Marketing “puffery,” or simply making clearly exaggerated or opinionated statements not meant to be taken as statements of fact

Penalties for a Wire Fraud Conviction

Penalties for a federal wire fraud conviction include:

  • Up to 20 years in federal prison
  • Up to $250,000 in potential fines for individuals
  • Up to $500,000 in potential fines for organizations

However, if the wire fraud scheme involved a presidentially-declared disaster or a federal financial institution, maximum penalties increase to:

  • Up to 30 years in prison
  • Up to $1 million in fines

Contact an Experienced Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Wire Fraud Charges in Texas

Were you arrested or charged with wire fraud in Texas? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at Chernoff Law have successfully represented clients charged with wire fraud who live in Harris, Galveston, Montgomery, Fort Bend, and Chambers Counties, and throughout Texas and the United States. Call (713) 222-9141 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 917 Franklin St., Suite 300, Houston, TX 77002.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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