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Fraud Offences Articles

A Guide to Mail Fraud

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Being charged or prosecuted with something as serious as mail fraud would be a very worrying and confusing experience for anyone, so if you have questions or concerns about this yourself (either for you or someone you care about), know that you are not alone. Mail fraud is a very serious offence and depending on the culpability of the offender and the level of harm caused, the sentence could be very harsh indeed. That said, there are a number of instances where the person charged was not responsible at all, and in those cases a good solicitor can make all the difference in ensuring your rights are protected and your personal and professional life is spared the impact. Here, we provide an outline of the offence of mail fraud and address some of the most common questions we receive as experienced fraud solicitors.

What is mail fraud?

In England and Wales, mail fraud typically refers to fraudulent schemes that involve the use of the postal system. Crimes could be committed in a scheme involving the Royal Mail, or any other private courier service. The crime involves intentionally deceiving others with the purpose of gaining unlawful financial advantage or causing loss to another party through the use of mail services. The deception could be in the form of false representation, false promises, or concealment of facts.

In this way, the core of the offence is fraud, as governed by the Fraud Act 2006.

Here are some examples of mail fraud:

Attempting to trick recipients into sharing sensitive information like passwords or credit card numbers by posing as a reputable entity in an email in a phishing scam.

Asking recipients to pay a fee upfront (for example, for tax purposes or to release a larger sum of money) with the promise of a significant return that never materialises. This is known as ‘advanced fee fraud’.

Notifying recipients that they’ve won a large sum of money or a prize but need to pay a fee or provide personal details to claim it in a lottery scam.

Creating a fake catalogue or online store and taking payment for goods that don’t exist or are not as described in online shopping scams.

Any case involving the use of the mail system for deception with the intent of personal gain could potentially be classified as mail fraud. Other offences may also overlap, particularly if an offender attempted to steal mail as well as defraud others through the use of the mail system.

What is mail fraud in relation to broader fraud offences?

Mail fraud falls under the broader offence category of fraud, as governed by the Fraud Act 2006. Fraud can be committed in various ways and in being such a broad offence, more specific names have been given to certain types of offences within that broader category, such as mail fraud, benefits fraud, online fraud, etc.

Fraud can be committed in various ways and there are three main fraud offences that cover those scenarios. These are:

  • Fraud by false representation (Section 2)
  • Fraud by failing to disclose information (Section 3)
  • Fraud by abuse of position (Section 4)

Any of these could be implicated in mail fraud. A person could, for example, commit fraud by false representation by pretending to be someone else in a letter (pretending to be a pension or tax authority, for example). They could also fail to disclose information and lead someone to pay them money because of it. Likewise, they could abuse their position in having access to sensitive data, for example, and demand money from someone via the mail.

What is the maximum sentence for mail fraud?

Under Section 1 of the Fraud Act 2006, the maximum sentence for mail fraud (just with most other types of fraud) is 10 years’ custody and a fine. This sentence will be reserved for the most serious of cases where the judge considers the maximum culpability and levels of harm to be present. For those cases that do not hit this high threshold, the judge will look at a range of factors to decide what sentence to give.

For fraud, culpability factors that increase the severity of an offence include evidence of:

  • A leading role where offending is part of a group activity
  • Involvement of others through pressure, influence
  • Abuse of position of power or trust or responsibility
  • Sophisticated nature of offence/significant planning
  • Fraudulent activity conducted over sustained period of time
  • Large number of victims
  • Deliberately targeting victim on basis of vulnerability
  • And, in terms of harm, there being evidence of:
  • Serious detrimental effect on the victim whether financial or otherwise, for example substantial damage to credit rating
  • Victim particularly vulnerable (due to factors including but not limited to their age, financial circumstances, mental capacity)
  • The amount of financial harm that was caused by the mail fraud scheme is also relevant. Category 1 offences are the most serious and deal with cases where £500,000 or more was caused or intended. Category 5 offences are the least serious, dealing with cases where less than £5,000 was caused or intended.

Taking all these factors into account, a judge may decide to give you a lesser sentence.

Note that in cases where a crime is very well organised or is being conducted as part of gang activity or other organised crime, there may be more severe consequences because the harm caused and culpability generally will be much greater.

Are there any defences available for mail fraud?

In a criminal case, your defence team may be able to put forward a specific defence for you. If successfully pleaded, a defence will either have the effect of getting you a ‘not guilty’ verdict or it will mean that any sentence you receive will be lesser.

Defences to mail fraud, like many other crimes, can be generally categorised into two types: special defences and general defences.

Special defences are specific to the crime charged, in this case, mail fraud. One such special defence could be the lack of intent to defraud. Since mail fraud requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant intentionally set out to deceive others for personal gain, showing that there was no intent to defraud can be a strong defence. Another special defence might be to challenge the evidence of the fraud itself, such as arguing that the alleged fraudulent statements were actually true or that they were not material to the alleged victim’s decision to part with money or property.

If a special defence does not apply, you may be able to argue a general defence, which relates to the offender him or herself rather than the actual crime.

General defences can include:

Lack of capacity: This defence can be used if the defendant can demonstrate that they didn’t have the mental capacity to commit the crime, such as due to a mental illness or being under the age of criminal responsibility.

Duress: If the defendant was forced or coerced into committing the crime under the threat of serious harm or death, they might be able to use duress as a defence.

Necessity: This defence is applicable when the defendant committed the crime to prevent a greater harm from occurring. Note, however, that it is a difficult defence to establish and is rarely successful.

Self-defence: Though it is unlikely to be relevant to a charge of mail fraud, self-defence is a common general defence. It asserts that the defendant’s actions were necessary to protect themselves or others from immediate harm. Some special circumstances may lead to self-defence being pleaded but they are few and far between.

Consulting with an experienced legal professional is imperative when facing any criminal charges, as the success of any defence will depend on the specific circumstances of the case and the skill with which the defence is presented. Finding a solicitor who specialises in mail fraud should be your first step in trying to manage any charge or criminal case that is brought against you.

Where to get more help with mail fraud

If you or someone you care about is facing prosecution or a trial for mail fraud, it is imperative that you get as much information as possible as early on in the process as you can. Getting in touch with a solicitor that is well versed in the complexities of the fraud legal landscape and how the criminal justice system processes such cases is an excellent first step. Regardless of your guilt or innocence, get in touch with the experienced fraud lawyers at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. We might even be able to get your case dropped before it proceeds any further.

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