The crime of fraud can take many forms. Scams that take place over interstate wires, such as telemarketing fraud, phishing, or spam related schemes, are called wire fraud.
Elements of Wire Fraud
Wire fraud is very similar to regular fraud, except that it takes place over phone lines or involves electronic communications. The legal definition of wire fraud has four elements:
- The defendant created or participated in a scheme to defraud another out of money;
- The defendant did so with intent to defraud;
- It was reasonably foreseeable that the defendant would use wire communications; and
- The defendant did in fact use interstate wire communications.
For the purposes of wire fraud, “interstate wire communications” could mean telephone calls, electronic communication such as fax machines or the Internet, or even television.
Typical Wire Fraud Schemes
People who commit wire fraud are typically looking for your personal financial information in order to use your credit cards or transfer money from your bank account. One common example of wire fraud over the phone is telemarketing fraud.
Plenty of scammers have also used the Internet to defraud people. “Phishing” is the practice by which a scammer will send out unsolicited email to mass amounts of people. The email will typically contain a somewhat convincing story and end with a request for the reader’s personal information. One of the most infamous examples of this kind of fraud is the story of the Nigerian prince. In that scam, the sender claims that he is a Nigerian prince who has been exiled, or experienced some other disaster. The sender says he has money in a Nigerian bank account, but needs to use the reader’s bank account as a place to deposit the money until a safer place can be found. The reader would then give her account information, and the scammer would use that information to access the reader’s money.
Some schemes are easy to see spot, but others are not. Be wary of any email, TV broadcast, or phone call requesting your personal information. You can report many instances of wire fraud to the FTC, who will launch an investigation.
Take a look at FindLaw’s sections on financial crimes and crimes against property to learn about related offenses.