Understanding Your Rights When Accused of Wire Fraud in the Digital Era

In recent years, federal authorities have placed considerable emphasis on identifying and prosecuting acts of wire fraud, as the digital era has made committing wire fraud much easier. If you’ve been arrested and charged with wire fraud, you need to understand your rights and options for facing your charges. A New Jersey criminal defense lawyer can explain your options if you’ve been accused of participating in wire fraud schemes.

Understanding Wire Fraud in the Digital Age

As more of our personal and financial lives move online in the digital age, the number of wire fraud prosecutions has grown exponentially. Fraudsters can now reach thousands of potential victims simultaneously with their schemes, which have themselves become more complex and intricate. As a consequence, it’s become more challenging for victims and law enforcement to identify scams and track down their perpetrators. Advances in the capabilities of generative AI enable fraudsters to develop convincing schemes quickly, including using voice spoofing and deepfakes to lend a veneer of authenticity to their cons.

Legal Implications of Wire Fraud

The federal wire fraud statute makes it illegal for a person to engage in a scheme to defraud or obtain money or property by false pretenses, representations, or promises via means of wire, radio, or television communications in interstate or foreign commerce. Wire fraud can occur over any form of telecommunication, such as telephones, fax machines, or the internet.

Common examples of wire fraud in the digital age include:

  • Phishing schemes, which involve efforts to convince a person to disclose sensitive information, such as bank account and credit card numbers or online account usernames and passwords
  • Fake contest scams, which involve telling a victim that they’ve won money in a contest/sweepstakes but must pay a processing fee to obtain their winnings
  • “Nigerian prince” scams, which involve convincing a victim to hand over their banking information or to send money to help the scammer purportedly recover or move large sums of money in exchange for a portion of the money
  • Identity theft
  • Credit card fraud
  • Telemarketing scams
  • Bank fraud, including applying for financial services with a fake identity or someone else’s unlawfully obtained identification information
  • Government benefits fraud

Penalties for wire fraud can include a prison sentence of up to 20 years plus potential fines. However, committing wire fraud in connection with a presidentially declared disaster or emergency increases the penalties to 30 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $1 million. The wire fraud minimum sentence may depend on a defendant’s criminal history, as offenders with prior convictions may have higher advisory sentencing guidelines ranges. Courts typically sentence within the guidelines range for wire fraud offenses, although they may vary downward from the guidelines in cases involving mitigating factors.

Digital Evidence in Wire Fraud Cases

Today, wire fraud cases arising from false or fraudulent pretenses on the internet involve various forms of digital evidence, such as:

  • A form of electronic communication, including emails, text messages, voicemails, and social media posts
  • IP logs
  • Metadata (data about data), which can include information such as user access, author identities, and changelogs
  • Financial records, including bank statements, credit card statements, invoices, wire transfer records, or contracts

Defense Strategies in Wire Fraud Cases

Depending on the facts of the case, a person charged with a wire fraud offense may have various strategies for their defense to avoid being found guilty of wire fraud. Some of the more common defenses used to fight wire fraud charges include:

  • Lack of intent: The federal wire fraud statute requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to commit wire fraud by defrauding another party or obtaining money or property through a fraudulent scheme.
  • Good faith: Similar to lack of intent, a good faith defense argues that the defendant made promises or representations with a good faith belief in the integrity and accuracy of those promises or representations. A wire fraud conviction will require the government to prove that the defendant knew they were making false statements.
  • Intrastate activity: The federal wire fraud statute only covers wire fraud in interstate or foreign commerce. Any fraudulent activity that occurred solely within one state may face prosecution under state wire fraud charges instead, which frequently have less severe penalties than federal crime.
  • Mistaken identity: A wire fraud case may turn on the perpetrator’s identity, with the defendant arguing that they were not the person who committed the fraud. Mistaken identity can occur when scammers use or spoof another person’s IP address to conceal themselves from investigators.
  • Authorization: A defendant may fight wire fraud charges arising from using another person’s identity by proving they had that person’s authority to use their identifying information.
  • The wire fraud statute of limitations: Federal law imposes a five-year statute of limitations (10 years for offenses involving financial institutions), requiring prosecutors to file a federal offense indictment within a certain period after an act of alleged wire fraud.

Defense strategies in wire fraud cases often focus on challenging the admissibility of the government’s evidence, arguing that investigators obtained it by violating the defendant’s rights. Evidence might have been unlawfully obtained if police searched a person’s home, business, or electronic devices and online accounts without a warrant or sufficient probable cause to support a valid search warrant.

Personal Impact of Being Charged with Wire Fraud

Facing wire fraud charges can involve considerable anxiety and stress, as they involve complex facts and evidence, making it difficult for defendants to prepare a compelling case strategy alone. Fortunately, they do not have to, as an experienced wire fraud defense lawyer can step in on their behalf.

Steps to Take if You’re Accused of Wire Fraud

If law enforcement and prosecutors have accused you of wire fraud, you can take the following steps to protect your rights and freedoms:

  • Preserve all relevant evidence. You might face additional charges if you try to delete or destroy documents or electronic information.
  • Exercise your right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions that investigators or prosecutors ask about the alleged fraud.
  • Exercise your right to legal counsel. Contact a criminal defense attorney at Keith Oliver Criminal Law as soon as possible. An attorney can review the facts and circumstances of your case to advise you as you make decisions at each stage, including deciding whether to speak to investigators, negotiate a plea deal, or fight your charges at trial.

Contact Our New Jersey Wire Fraud Defense Attorneys Today

If you’ve been charged with wire fraud, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights, reputation, and future. Contact Keith Oliver Criminal Law today for a free, confidential consultation to discuss your options for fighting wire transfer fraud charges in New Jersey.