For many people, the prospect of a "get-rich-quick" scheme, or other such "opportunity," may cloud sound judgment and lead them to fall victim to one of the many different types of check fraud scams that are still out there -- seeming to creep back up like stubborn weeds. However, the perpetrators of these scams, especially when using the U.S. mail as an unwitting participant, are playing a high-stakes criminal game that can result in hefty fines and decades of jail time.
We take fraud very seriously at Checkeeper. We constantly monitor for fraudulent activity to ensure the security of account holders. To protect yourself from becoming a victim, it is good to both know the laws surrounding check fraud and using the United States Postal Service to deliver any mail that is part of a fraudulent scheme.
Anyone who uses the U.S. mail in an attempt to engage in fraud runs the risk of being prosecuted under the federal mail fraud law.
U.S. Postal Inspectors investigate any crime in which the U.S. Mail is used to further a scheme – whether it originated in the mail, by telephone, or on the Internet. The use of the U.S. Mail is what makes it mail fraud. If evidence of a postal violation exists, Postal Inspectors may seek prosecutive or administrative action against the violator.
You don't have to personally mail your letter to be convicted of mail fraud. Federal law makes it a crime anytime someone “used or caused another to use” the USPS or another carrier in a fraud attempt.
Further, mail fraud occurs whenever a person attempts to defraud someone else by using the mail, meaning you don't actually have to succeed in defrauding someone else to be found guilty.
Additionally, if you use the mail in support of any fraud scheme, the mailings you send do not necessarily have to contain any falsehoods. If, for example, you send a letter to someone that contains correct information, but do so in order to follow up on an attempt or as part of a general plan to defraud, this too is mail fraud.
Other carriers are included
While mail fraud crimes often involve the use of the United States Postal Service, or USPS, you can also commit the crime when you use any interstate carrier, such as FedEx, UPS. Mail fraud crimes apply to these businesses because the carriers cross state lines when they perform their services.
Mail fraud convictions can result in high fines, long prison sentences, and other penalties.
- Incarceration. The potential prison penalty for a federal mail fraud crime is very stiff. Each offense can result in a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. However, the penalty can be harsher if the crime involves specific victims or elements. When, for example, a fraud scheme involves federal disaster relief or where the victim is a financial institution, sentences of 30 years per offense are possible.
- Fines. Mail fraud fines are also very high. A conviction for a single count of mail fraud can result in a fine of up to $250,000. For fraud involving financial institutions or federal disaster relief, fines of up to $1 million per offense are possible.
- Probation. Mail fraud convictions can also result in a probation term. Anyone sentenced to probation has to spend a specific amount of time, typically one to three years or more, abiding by specific court conditions in lieu of serving prison time. These conditions limit the person's liberties, such as by requiring the probationer to regularly report to a probation monitor, submitting to random home searches or random drug tests, not associating with known criminals, and not committing other crimes.
- Restitution. When a mail fraud scheme succeeds in defrauding someone of property or causes harm to a victim, courts make restitution a part of the sentence. Restitution payments are made to the victims so they can recover what they lost as a result of the fraud. Restitution payments must be made in addition to fines, and when probation is given, are made a condition of the sentence.