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Defining mail fraud

The word “fraud” is often used in a general sense to describe any activity in which one tries to deceive another in an attempt to secure a financial gain. However, there are actually several different types of fraud whose classification depends on the type of medium or method used to perpetuate a scheme. One of the more common is mail fraud, an offense that can carry with it severe penalties such as incarceration, as well as fines and restitution which can be up to $1 million in certain situations.

Mail fraud is any devise or scheme meant to defraud others using the U.S. Postal Service or a private courier. The U.S. Postal Inspection services recognizes a number of different categories of mail fraud. These categories (along with some of the common types of schemes that fall under them) as are follows:

  •          Employment fraud: False job listings, pyramid schemes, “mystery shopper” scams
  •          Financial fraud: Fraudulent charity listings, phony credit card offers, low-rate insurance schemes
  •          Fraud against older Americans: Phony sweepstakes advertisements, off-shore investment opportunities
  •          Sweepstakes and lottery fraud: Fabricated prize announcements, free vacation vouchers

Other examples of mail fraud may include false missing persons bulletins, or solicitations for money to help foreign citizens or causes.

A fear of being inadvertently accused of mail fraud may scare people away from attempting to do any sort of advertising or soliciting by mail at all. However, certain elements must be present in order to warrant a conviction for such a crime. According to the U.S Department of Justice, one must be proven to have either devised or intended to devise a fraudulent scheme, and to have used the mail service to execute or attempt to execute such a plan. 

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