Wire Fraud Statute

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The Fraud by Wire, Radio, or Television Statute in the U.S. Code was added in 1952.[1] This statute makes it illegal 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."[1] A person in violation of this law would face fines and/or up to 20 years in prison.[1] This statute, being originally enacted in 1952, was not designed to prosecute computer crimes, making it somewhat difficult to use in these circumstances.[2] However, in the past it has been successfully used to prosecute some Internet crimes, like spam phishing emails, using the wire element of the statute.[2][3] The creation of new laws that specifically address cyber-crimes, like the CFAA, have made it easier to prosecute such crimes more directly.[2]

Addition of the Emergency and Disaster Assistance Fraud Penalty Enhancement Act of 2007

  • The wire fraud statute has been amended multiple times, most recently in order to add a clause that raises the penalty for those who defrauded or attempted to defraud people in the wake of a national emergency or tragedy.[1][4]
  • A person who violates the new clause relating to using a national emergency to commit fraud could potentially face 30 years incarceration and/or up to a million dollars in fines.[1]


In order to successfully prove that wire fraud has occurred, one must show that:[5]

  1. the accused party "devised" the plan to commit fraud or actually participated in the scheme.[5]
  2. the accused party's intention was to commit fraud.
  3. the accused party had knowledge or could "reasonably foresee" that interstate communication would be used.[5]
  4. the accused party used interstate wire communication to perpetrate the fraud.

Additional Resources

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