Using the mail as a way to defraud someone can get you into a lot of hot water. When you start tampering with the mail, it is no longer a state issue. It is a federal crime and it’s serious.

What is Mail Fraud?

In Nevada, mail fraud is prosecuted under the federal statute 18 U.S. Code § 1341 – Frauds and swindles.

The federal crime of mail fraud is defrauding someone else by using the mail. There are four elements to this crime that must be met in order for the act to qualify as mail fraud:

  • Fraudulent Scheme – A fraudulent scheme that was intended to deprive someone else of honest services, property, or money. “Honest services” can be trade secrets, ethical conduct, etc.
  • Intent – The defendant committed the scheme with the intent to defraud
  • Material Misrepresentations of Truth – There were material misrepresentations of truth involved in the fraud
  • Mail – The mail was used by the defendant to carry out the scheme

Mail fraud can be committed in a number of ways. There are phony sweepstakes and charity scams, and various versions of chain letters that ask the recipients to send money.

Because these schemes employ the U.S. Postal Service in carrying out the fraud, it makes mail fraud a federal crime.


What Other Crimes are Related to Mail Fraud?

There are a couple of other fraud crimes where mail fraud is often a component.

Wire Fraud

  • 18 U.S. Code § 1343 – Fraud by wire, radio, or television
    • Defrauding someone else by using wire communications such as the internet or telephone
      • Telemarketing fraud
      • Email scam that tricks people into providing credit card information so that the scammers can illegally use the financial information to make purchases
    • Max 20 years in prison and a fine that is set at the judge’s discretion

Bank Fraud


What are the Penalties for Mail Fraud?

The penalties for mail fraud are serious. The case is heard before a federal judge. In Nevada, all mail fraud cases are heard in either the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno or the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas.

The penalties for mail fraud include:

18 U.S. Code § 1341 – Frauds and swindles. (Mail Fraud)

  • Maximum 20 years in federal prison, and/or
  • A fine (the judge determines the amount), and/or
  • Restitution to the victim

If federal disaster relief, such as a FEMA grant, is involved in the mail fraud, the penalties are even higher.

  • Maximum 30 years in federal prison, and/or
  • Maximum fine of $1,000,000, and/or
  • Restitution to the victim

If the losses to the victim exceed $10,000, then the crime is categorized as an aggravated felony. This can mean a longer prison sentence, a bigger fine, and even deportation.


What are the Defenses for Mail Fraud?

There are three common defenses that fraud attorneys will use to defend their clients in a mail fraud case:

  • No use of the mail – The statute 18 U.S.C. § 1341 is only applicable if the defendant used the mail at some point while committing the fraud. The prosecution would support this with testimony provided by postal service workers, mail slips, or tracking numbers. Without that proof, they will have a hard time upholding the charges.
  • No intent to defraud – It is very hard for the prosecution to prove the defendant’s state of mind and in order to uphold a mail fraud charge and get a conviction, they have to prove that the defendant intended to do harm to the victim and was not acting in good faith.
  • Illegal police search – If the search that law enforcement conducted to obtain evidence against the defendant was illegal, then that evidence cannot be presented because it was unlawfully obtained.



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