What is Mail Fraud?

Mail fraud can be described as any scam that attempts to illegally obtain money or valuable items transmitted via the postal system.  It is essentially a legal aspect of the United States Code which may provide for the increased penalty of any fraudulent action determined to be used in conjunction with the USPS (United States Postal Service).  Similar to the instance of wire fraud, the statute is typically based on separate federal prosecution for a crime that would otherwise be a violation of state law.

The activities listed below are some of the most common examples of mail fraud:

The misrepresentation or failure to delivery mail-order products - This scam comes in many forms such as ordering a product, being invoiced and never receiving it.  Other variations involve misleading product descriptions.  For instance, an advertisement may promote a high-quality digital camera yet deliver a low-model version tagged with the more expensive price.  The product may prove to be defective or even stolen.  High-priced merchandise such as computers and related peripherals make great bait for many scam artists. 

These very scams are conducted more efficiently online.  The internet gives the criminal a protective shield as they never have to come in contact with their victims.  By using readily available software, they can easily create a site that appears legitimate and promote fraudulent items and services that do not even exist. 

Internet auction scams - Online auctions qualify as mail fraud when emails are being used at any point in the scam.  This may include requesting that money be sent to pay for undeliverable or non-existent merchandise or contacting a potential victim to initiate fraud.  

Impersonation - Numerous scams that involve misrepresenting the identity of a sender also constitute as mail fraud such as delivering false documentation or bogus requests for someone's personal information.  In one example, a criminal sends a fraudulent form to a potential victim that appears to be from the IRS.  The document requests that the recipient submits their banking details and forward the mail back to collect an additional tax credit.  When the con artist receives the information, they use it to commit other types of fraud and more damaging crimes such as identity theft.

Reporting Mail Fraud

The United States Postal Inspectors will investigate any crime in which mail is used to carry out a scam, whether it was initiated via mail, phone, or online.  The involvement of USPS makes each instance a case of fraud. 

If evidence of a violation is available, the Postal Inspectors have the power to seek legal action against the perpetrator.  However, if money is thieved through a scam conducted via the mail system, the Inspectors lack the authority required to ensure victims that funds will be recovered.  On a more comforting note, the U.S. Postal Inspectors will thoroughly review your complaint.  Additionally, they may also share the information with other organizations and agencies if the there is a chance of the violation relating to their jurisdiction.

If you suspect that you have been victimized by a scam initiated through the U.S. Postal Service, a Mail Fraud Complaint Form can be submitted with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service: www.postalinspectors.uspis.gov

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