What Exactly Is Wire Fraud?

Posted: May 8, 2014 in The Law

Up until my case, I always thought wire fraud had something to do with wiring money, which as it turns out is not the case. As defined by the law, it’s this:

Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. If the violation occurs in relation to, or involving any benefit authorized, transported, transmitted, transferred, disbursed, or paid in connection with, a presidentially declared major disaster or emergency (as those terms are defined in section 102 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122)), or affects a financial institution, such person shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

In “English”, it means this:

If you use any physical wire that crosses a state line to trick someone into doing something that they wouldn’t have normally done, you just committed wire fraud.

In my case, I plead guilty to one count of wire fraud which correlated to one user being “forced” to click an advertisement (the user had to be outside of California in order for it to qualify as wire fraud since my servers are inside California, and the “fraudulent” action needed to utilize a wire [the Internet] that crosses state lines). The total monetary gain from that action was $0, but it’s not about actual gain (it’s about intent), and one could argue that I “intended” to possibly gain ~$0.50 if the planets were aligned and the user bought something from eBay afterwards.

Basically it’s a “catch-all” law. For example any misleading advertising that you see on the Internet could be construed as wire fraud if the server that served the ad is in a state other than the state you are in.

  1. RSnake says:

    So should fraudsters set up a network of wireless mesh to transit state lines? ;). Seriously though, that’s crap. So many of these laws are out of date. Even the DoJ guys I talk to say they’re at least a decade behind the technology.

    • shawn says:

      You could probably argue that wireless or satellite still constitutes a “wire” that crosses state lines.

      But if you want to be safe, just make sure you only do “the fraud” inside your state and then you can’t argue that it crossed state lines (of course I’m kidding… there’s probably state laws that would come into play). lol

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