Mail fraud, also categorized with wire fraud, includes fraudulent activity that a criminal attempts to carry out using the United States Postal Service. The U.S. government considers this crime a federal offense punishable by fines up to $1 million or up to 30 years in prison.
People usually commit mail scams to obtain money or property from other people or institutions under false pretenses. The three main elements of this crime are:
- Obtaining money or property by fraud
- Mail or wire communication
Scams can occur either through the United States Postal Service or a commercial interstate carrier, such as FedEx or UPS. In order for a crime to be deemed a mail scam, it must cross at least one state line, or occur “interstate” (between states). Wire communication encompasses email, telephone and radio, which all can be interstate, or communication with other countries (international).
How it occurs
Mail fraud can occur in many different forms. Employment fraud, financial fraud and sweepstakes and lottery fraud are among some of the common types of scams investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Stealing someone’s mail to get their personal information is also a common type of scam. Criminals partake in such activity to get their hands on credit cards, checks and anything of value. They may be looking for your personal information to fill out loan or employment applications, which constitutes identity theft.
Criminals may even fill out a change of address form and have your mail sent to their home or a P.O. Box so they can steal items that were meant to be delivered to you.
Mail fraud scams: How to protect yourself
- Never send cash through the postal service – only money orders and checks. Ask your bank to issue you secure checks that can’t be altered.
- Pay attention to what time your mail gets delivered every day and pick it up as soon as it comes. If you’re not home when the postal carrier delivers it, try to have a neighbor pick it up for you.
- Always have a neighbor pick up your mail when you’re out of town. Or ask the post office to hold it until you return home.
- Immediately notify the post office when you change your address or if you don’t receive something you were expecting. Also check with the agency that issued your mail.
- Don’t leave outgoing mail in your mailbox overnight. Either hand it to your postal carrier or deposit it at the post office.