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Former Assistant District Attorney
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney

The difference between mail fraud and wire fraud

On Behalf of | Apr 24, 2020 | Federal Crimes

Fraud is one of the most common criminal charges at the federal level. With the rise of the internet and the prevalence of communications that are not face-to-face, fraud over mail or wire communication continue to increase. While mail and wire fraud are often charged together, the two differ in their medium.

Fraud using a postal service

Mail fraud is defined as actions involving mailing something associated with fraud. This means that the entire fraudulent act does not have to be through mail, but indeed involves in part mailing things like contracts, receipts or communications. The fraud can occur via U.S. Postal Services or private mailing.

For a conviction, there must be an intent to take money or property under false pretenses. There also may be the intent to or action of selling, distributing, exchanging, supplying or using counterfeits.

Fraud through technological communications

Fraud that occurs over the phone or via electrical communications is wire fraud. These can include calls, faxes, internet communication or even transmissions on the television.

To prove wire fraud, there must be an intent to defraud people of money or property, participation in or creation of a plan to defraud and foreseeable or actual use of wire communications.


The penalties for wire and mail fraud are similar:

  • Individual fines up to $250,000
  • Organizational fines up to $500,000
  • Imprisonment up to 20 years

In special circumstances, the penalties can increase, however. Mail or wire fraud involving a major disaster or emergency declared by the president or that involves a financial institution can involve an added $1 million and 30 years of imprisonment. Charges can be brought against the defendant separately, so there may be fines and imprisonment added for each incident.