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Elements that must be present in mail fraud

Mail fraud is a serious federal crime. In fact, the United States Postal Service claims that in any given year, there are as many as 1,300 arrests that come from fraud. 

The definition of mail fraud is the attempt to deprive another individual of his or her property, which can include money. These scams take many forms. Some of the most common practices include:

  • Fraudulent health services and medical products
  • Money order scams by pretending to be a prison pen pal
  • Fraudulent inheritance scams
  • Home repair or improvement scams
  • Untrue missing person fees

Regardless of the exact method, this form of fraud has been considered a federal crime since 1872. Additionally, for a court to reach a conviction, several elements need to be in place. 


A court must prove the person perpetrating the mail fraud scheme had the intent to swindle people out of their property or money. This does not necessarily mean the scam had to be successful. The court will need to show the person conducting the scam planned to separate the receiver from his or her property. Mail scams that seek only to be deceitful may not fall under this category. 

Use of mail for carrying out the fraud

For the purposes of the scam, letters sent by the United States Postal Service are essential. Scams that utilize phones or emails to deprive people of their rightfully-earned property classify as wire fraud. 

A court will need to prove that both of these elements were present and that the perpetrator was aware of the attempt to take advantage of others. There are financial consequences, including paying restitution to anyone who lost money from the scam as well as fines up to $250,000. However, if the person directed the fraud toward institutions dedicated to natural disaster relief or banks, then the fine could be as high as $1 million. Probation and imprisonment are also on the table. 

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