Mail Fraud

The term mail fraud refers to any scheme carried out in a fraudulent manner, with the intent of depriving another person of his or her property, or “honest services,” via the U.S. Postal Service, or any other interstate mail carrier. Since 1872, the crime of mail fraud has been classified as a federal offense in the United States, and carries serious penalties. To explore this concept, consider the following mail fraud definition.

Definition of Mail Fraud

Noun

  1. A scheme or fraudulent activity carried out with the use of United States mail.
  2. A deceit, trickery, or scam perpetrated through the postal or private mail carrier service.

Origin (fraud)

1300-1350        Middle English fraude

What is Mail Fraud

Mail fraud schemes are more common than one might imagine, as they include such activities as employment fraud, financial fraud, telemarketing fraud, fraud against the elderly, and sweepstakes fraud. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, each of these types of fraud is perpetrated in a variety of ways, such as:

Employment Fraud

Employment fraud includes a number of scams offering fake jobs and work-at-home opportunities. These include such fraudulent activities as:

  • Distributorship and Franchise Fraud
  • Phony Job Opportunities
  • Multi-Level Marketing Jobs (Pyramid Schemes)
  • Six-Cent and Other Short-Paid Postage
  • Postal Job Scams: Don’t Fall For a Con Game
  • Work-at-Home Schemes
  • Mystery Shopper Scam

Financial Fraud

Financial fraud includes any scheme to defraud people of their money or other assets. These may include:

  • “900” Telephone Number Fraud
  • Loan Schemes charging an advance fee
  • Charity Donation Fraud
  • Credit Card Fraud
  • Schemes that Charge Money for Services the Government Provides for Free
  • Health Insurance Fraud
  • Ponzi Schemes and other Investment Fraud
  • Solicitations Disguised as Invoices
  • Land Fraud

Fraud Against Older Americans

Elderly Americans are targeted by a wide variety of scammers. Many individuals make up fraud schemes specifically to target older people, preying on their lack of knowledge of how modern technology and legitimate companies work. Fraud against older Americans is perpetrated through the mail, as well as by phone and online. The Postal Inspection Service offers free tips for seniors on protecting themselves from this type of fraud.

Example:

Marge receives an official-looking letter advising her she is entitled to a refund from Social Security, and that someone would be following up with her by phone. When Marge receives a phone call from someone stating they are calling from Social Security, and they have determined she is entitled to a refund that is to be paid as $500 per month for the next six months, she starts to ask questions. The caller only repeats the information and asks for Marge’s bank account information so he can ensure her first $500 payment is deposited right away.

Fortunately, Marge was skeptical and told the caller she would call Social Security the following day to provide whatever information was needed, and the caller hung up. Although the bank account information was solicited by phone, the fraud was initiated by mail, and can therefore be prosecuted under mail fraud laws.

Other Types of Mail Fraud

The U.S. Postal Service is aware of, and offers advice for avoiding, a great number of mail fraud schemes. Scammers are creative, however, and invent new ways to defraud people out of their money, personal information, and other assets on a regular basis. Common mail fraud schemes include:

  • Home Improvement and Home Repair Scams
  • Phony Inheritance Scam
  • Receipt of Unsolicited Merchandise
  • Missing Persons Fee for Location Fraud
  • Prison Pen Pal Money Order Scam
  • Fraudulent Health and Medical Products
  • Fee for Removal of Name from National Contact Lists Fraud

Elements of Mail Fraud

When the U.S. Postal Service, or any interstate mail carrier, is used to further a criminal act, it is considered to be mail fraud. In order for an individual to be convicted of mail fraud, certain specific elements must be proven. These include:

  1. The perpetrator must have acted with the intent to scheme or defraud a person or entity.
  2. The scheme must have involved material misstatements or purposeful omissions.
  3. The scheme or fraud resulted in, or would likely have resulted in the loss of property, honest services, or money.
  4. The perpetrator must have used the mail in some manner to further the scheme to defraud.

U.S. Postal Service Inspectors

The U.S. Postal Service employs inspectors who are trained to investigate fraud and mail schemes. The U.S. Postal Service Inspectors investigate any crime in which the postal service or mail was used at any point in the scam, even if that crime originated on the internet, by phone, or some other means.

If mail fraud is discovered, the postal inspectors seek prosecution of offenders. Unfortunately, postal inspectors do not have the authority to ensure victims receive a refund or other resolution to their issue. In many cases, however, victims may seek reparations through a civil lawsuit against the perpetrators. Typically, mail fraud schemes are discovered when one or more people report a scheme to the postal service.

Reporting Mail Fraud

In order to detect and prosecute people that engage in mail fraud, the United States Postal Service depends on individuals to report problems. If an individual suspects mail fraud, he can contact the U.S. Post Office in their jurisdiction, or talk to his mail carrier to learn the appropriate steps to take. Complaints of mail fraud, mail theft, and identity theft using the mail service, as well as the receipt of unsolicited sexually oriented materials, may be reported online by visiting the U.S. Postal Service Inspection website, or by calling 1-800-275-8777.

Mail Fraud Penalties

While mail fraud penalties vary depending on the exact nature of the fraud committed, the penalties are very serious. Fines and restitution are only the beginning when it comes to punishing perpetrators of mail fraud. Other mail fraud penalties may include:

  • Fines – A single count of mail fraud may result in a fine as high as $250,000. If the fraud involves a financial institution, or federal disaster relief, the fines may be as high as $1 million per occurrence.
  • Restitution – Perpetrators are commonly ordered to repay the victims for their losses as a result of the fraudulent acts. Restitution is ordered in addition to any other penalties.
  • Probation – A perpetrator of mail fraud may be ordered to serve one to five years on probation, in addition to fines and restitution. During probation, the perpetrator’s activities are closely monitored.
  • Imprisonment – Perpetrators of federal mail fraud are often sentenced to spend up to 30 years in prison for each offense. The stiffest penalties apply to mail fraud that involves financial institutions, federal disaster relief programs, or other special victims.

For example:

Tyler forges letterhead using the logo of FEMA, a federal disaster relief organization, then mails thousands of letters seeking donations to fund such activities as providing clean drinking water to hurricane victims. Tyler rakes in over $500,000 in donations before the postal inspectors catch up with him. Tyler is convicted of more than 50 counts of mail fraud involving a federal disaster relief organization, and is ordered to pay a hefty fine, and to make restitution to those victims who could be identified. In addition, Tyler is sentenced to 30 years in prison for each count of mail fraud.

Mail Fraud Cases

Work-From-Home Scam

Timothy Donovan and Sharon Henningsen, both in their sixties, engaged in a scheme in which fake solicitation letters were mailed to people offering them a work-from-home opportunity stuffing and mailing envelopes. The letters asked the people to pay for materials up front, at a cost ranging from $59 to $149, with the promise of earning up to $5,000 or more per week.

Donovan and Henningsen were the only ones who profited, having deposited more than $3 million into three different bank accounts between 2005 and 2007. Investigators estimate that the victims, in addition to the money paid for “supplies,” spent over $800,000 in postage responding to the fraudulent letters. After taking into consideration the defendants’ age and health conditions, the judge sentenced each to spend 11 years and 3 months in prison, far less than the 20 years recommended by the prosecution.

Sweepstakes Fraud

Publishers Clearing House, a legitimate sweepstakes contest provider, issues a warning to all consumers that a scam originating in Jamaica is using the Publishers Clearing House (“PCH”) name. This scheme involves sending fake letters to individuals, promising a large payout if the consumer makes a wire transfer to the company to claim their prize. This Jamaican scam may originate by phone, mail, or email. The scammers then build a rapport with victims, tempting them with their prize “already won.” Payments made by wire transfer or other means never result in prize payout, however, only requests for more money.

According to U.S. law, all sweepstakes are free of charge, and there can be no payment or purchase required to enter or claim a prize. This fraud scheme is so large that it is being investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Trade Commission, the Office of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s office, as well as local law enforcement agencies.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Criminal Act – An act committed by an individual that is in violation of the law, or that poses a threat to the public.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Intent – A resolve to perform an act for a specific purpose; a resolution to use a particular means to a specific end.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Omission – The act of excluding or leaving something out; a failure to do something, especially something for which there is a moral or legal obligation to do.

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Siddhartha Mohapatra
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Siddhartha Mohapatra

Hello All A person posing as a buyer on eBay bought an item I had posted for sale. When I say bought, I mean he contacted me via text and agreed to buy the item. He immediately ‘sent’ the payment via an an email that represented itself as an email from PayPal stating that $250 had been paid. His request was that the item be shipped overnight so as to make it in time for his girlfriend’s birthday. I am normally careful person with scams but for some reason did not check the (actual underlying) address of the email supposedly… Read more »

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Karen Kain
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Karen Kain

Hi Sid,
Same thing happened to us. Did you get any kind of response about what to do? Thank you.

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Debra Huddleston
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Debra Huddleston

Yes, this was fraud. I read very carefully and since you had sent the product back to the scammer then it was mail fraud. I hope you found out that it is sooner than this. Good Luck. Below is how to report: How to Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service If you believe you’ve been victimized by a scam involving the U.S. Mail, you can get help by contacting your nearest Postal Inspection Service office in one of three ways: Call 1-877-876-2455 (press option “4” to report suspected mail fraud). Visit postalinspectors.uspis.gov to report suspected fraud online. Mail your queries… Read more »

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Just me
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Just me

Call 1-800-275-8777

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Debra Huddleston
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Debra Huddleston

Yes, this was fraud. I read very carefully and since you had sent the product back to the scammer then it was mail fraud. I hope you found out sooner than this. Good Luck. How to Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service If you believe you’ve been victimized by a scam involving the U.S. Mail, you can get help by contacting your nearest Postal Inspection Service office in one of three ways: Call 1-877-876-2455 (press option “4” to report suspected mail fraud). Visit postalinspectors.uspis.gov to report suspected fraud online. Mail your queries to this address: CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS SERVICE CENTER ATTN:… Read more »

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victoria
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victoria

since my mother-in-law died, my brother-in-law and his wife have been sending their junk mail to my house with their names and my address. they have never lived here, they live in Virginia. Does this constitute mail fraud in any way. The post master said that they had to do this change physically? I want to send them a letter but want to make sure I can tell them this is fraud. Can someone advise?

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Debra Huddleston
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Debra Huddleston

You have to go to your local post office and tell them that any mail coming with their names on it, that they do not live at your address. If any more mail comes then mark then write “Return to sender, Address unknown”.

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Jenn
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Jenn

This guy purchased an item for 15 bucka….waited a month while he played games to send the money order. We get the money order. Some things happened and i had forgot to send the item to him. Is that mail fraud?

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Debra Huddleston
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Debra Huddleston

Just send the item; a lot of things take a month to come. Send it asap. I had received a couple of items from a company after 2 and a half months and it’s a reputable company that I’ve dealt with several times.

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Kristine cirrincione
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Kristine cirrincione

I also became the victim of this person. My loss was 15,000. I have contacted everyone possible. I would love to find a lawyer but cannot afford at this time. Any help would be appreciated

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Logic
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Logic

Hi Kristine,
I wish I could help you, I am a victims too, and mail delivery is one of the methods used to make things difficult.

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Debra Huddleston
Guest
Debra Huddleston

Yes, this was fraud. I read very carefully and since you had sent the product back to the scammer then it was mail fraud. I hope you found out sooner than this. Good Luck. How to Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service If you believe you’ve been victimized by a scam involving the U.S. Mail, you can get help by contacting your nearest Postal Inspection Service office in one of three ways: Call 1-877-876-2455 (press option “4” to report suspected mail fraud). Visit postalinspectors.uspis.gov to report suspected fraud online. Mail your queries to this address: CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS SERVICE CENTER ATTN:… Read more »

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Debra Huddleston
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Debra Huddleston

Here’s who to report to: Yes, this was fraud. I read very carefully and since you had sent the product back to the scammer then it was mail fraud. I hope you found out sooner than this. Good Luck. How to Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service If you believe you’ve been victimized by a scam involving the U.S. Mail, you can get help by contacting your nearest Postal Inspection Service office in one of three ways: Call 1-877-876-2455 (press option “4” to report suspected mail fraud). Visit postalinspectors.uspis.gov to report suspected fraud online. Mail your queries to this address:… Read more »

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Melissa
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Melissa

My estranged daughter lived with me for a while after she became an adult but has not live with me for at least four years,she keeps having hospital bills sent to my address to avoid paying them she has even given the hospital a fake last name and put my address on file for them to send to my address, I’m interested to know if this is considered mail fraud As she is attempting to avoid paying the hospital Monies owed.

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Debra Huddleston
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Debra Huddleston

No, this is not mail fraud; this is a domestic issue that you should try to resolve. If you can’t then just write return to sender address unknown. I mean, if you want to turn your daughter in and cause more distance between you then you can cause trouble for her or you can tell her to get her act together and maybe you could try to help her find a way to pay back the hospital in installments. Maybe it’s her way of telling you that she’s hurting, she’s scared because she’s sick. She obviously needs help. Be a… Read more »

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Lisa Mazzola
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Lisa Mazzola

We are renting a garage conversion with three apts on the main house they do not have locked mail boxes, is it illegal for the landlord to hold the mail and put it under the door?

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Debra Huddleston
Guest
Debra Huddleston

No, that’s not legal in this state but maybe you should go to your local post office to ask them. Did you agree to it when you moved in? Did you read what you signed? It still may not be legal because the US mail tops landlords rights.

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Jake Paul
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Jake Paul

hey im a lawyer ur not OOOO

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Debra Huddleston
Guest
Debra Huddleston

You’re just an idiot

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Debra Huddleston
Guest
Debra Huddleston

I am receiving mail from a scammer saying that I won money and though this one is asking for less money, they probably sent a lot of these out. They asked for a $5.00 processing fee and the law on Sweepstakes says that they can’t ask for any money up front. I looked it up but how many people are just going to send the $5.00 dollars and wait for their $12,000,000 that they are being promised. Say that they, maybe, sent out one million letters and half of those sent the 5 dollars to this freaking post office box… Read more »

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Max Headache
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Max Headache

Here’s a good one: fortunately, I used my credit card, and if the merchant will not refund the money, the credit card company has agreed to refund my cost, and go after the merchant. Yes, as of this date, I am out $143, but after the merchant is contacted, I will notify the credit card company of whether I received the refund or not. You may receive a notice from “The Society”. If you do, you are being scammed. “The Society” wants to you join, and by doing so, you will purchase and receive a ‘textbook’ of 3,000-year-old ‘secrets’ of… Read more »

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DON STEPHENS
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DON STEPHENS

At my Fathers death my mother transferred property deeds as inheritance , short story one deed was transferred wrong it had my mothers name and the name of the renter of that property on it. Since then the renter has died. I got married to a very toxic woman, she used deceit an manipulation to coerce me into signing my mothers name ( I had a POA to do so) to transfer the property in an attempt for the spouse to later try an obtain through a divorce. No one had authority to sign the deceased renters name. My wife… Read more »

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Jonilyn
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Jonilyn

i work with a company that has been sending invoices in the mail to me and have been increasing the prices in services. I have them on camera so I know how long they have been here. Is this considered mail fraud as well?

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Liz
Guest
Liz

The trustee of a will and the recipients of the will are all from Panama-all live in Panama. There are 2 pieces of property and a vehicle. one property and the car have been sold. That money went directly to Panama. The second property has been for sale for 4 years while rent has been collected and sent directly to Panama- no taxes The payments go to a family friend who then forwards the payments to Panama- no federal or state tax being paid. The property tax has not been paid as fictitious address is on the assessor site. There… Read more »

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T. Storm
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T. Storm

I had a man contact me interested in scuba equipment on a FaceBook marketplace. The guy agreed to the asking price & payment (Asked for cashier’s check, since he claimed no Paypal). He agreed. He said he sent payment, I sent the goods. No money was ever sent. I have address , receipt of shipping& tracking #’s. I also have entire conversation & ad in which he replied. Stopped by post office & they claimed it was not Mail Fraud,… that I was just lied to…..

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Kathy Markley
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Kathy Markley

Hello, I believe I am a victim of mail fraud, and before contacting the postal authorities, though I’d run it by anyone here for opinions. A moving company whom we accused of deceptive business practices and consumer fraud (charged us approx. double our binding estimate) settled with us for the exact amount of our overcharge – $840.00. We signed, notarized and returns Releases required by them, which protect them from any further claims by us against them, in exchange for their payment of the $840 to us. Months passed, and I finally received notice from them that they sent our… Read more »

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Kathy Markley
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Kathy Markley

First of all I’d like to thank Debra Huddleston for helping all people on here for their opinion requests. I thought I posted mine the other day, but possibly did it wrong, because I can’t find it. I believe I’m a victim of mail fraud, and before contacting the Postal authorities, thought I’d run it here for anyone who can offer an opinion. Thanks in advance! A moving company whom we accused of deceptive bus. practice/consumer fraud (charging us, and so many others double + triple our binding estimate) settled with us for the exact amount of our overcharge –… Read more »

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steve marsh
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steve marsh

a business partner lied (in his answers to interrogatories) about money he collected in rent and had the renter send money orders to him by mail in a different state, is this mail fraud……..

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