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What does a simple scam become wire fraud?

Wire fraud is one of those criminal charges that the government typically tacks onto a long list of other charges.

But what is wire fraud, exactly? Basically, any type of scam that intentionally defrauds another person or entity out of their money or property through the use of interstate wire communications -- even if incidentally -- can be considered wire fraud. The

While the infamous "Nigerian Prince" emails that try to trick unsuspecting people into revealing their bank account information online are a prime example, there are plenty of other scams that use electronic communications, including lottery fraud, employment fraud, investment schemes and more. Tax fraud and bank fraud, for example, can also involve wire fraud because both usually involve (at some point) the electronic transmission of falsified records, information or money between the parties involved.

It's important to understand that just about any communication made via electronic means in the furtherance of a scam can be considered wire fraud. For example, picking up the phone to convince a hesitant investor to participate in a Ponzi scheme is wire fraud -- and so is running ads for your "great" investment opportunity on late-night television.

Wire fraud charges are often used to bring a criminal case under federal authority (when all of the other charges fall under state authority), which substantially increases the potential penalties you may face. Each act of wire fraud (meaning every phone call, email or other electronic communication) can be treated as a separate incident or "count" against you -- and each is subject to a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison, plus fines. If the wire fraud is in any way related to a presidentially declared disaster or involves a bank or other financial institution, the penalty goes up to 30 years in prison.

Wire fraud charges come with very high stakes, indeed. If you're charged with wire fraud, get experienced representation right away.

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