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Mail: Federal Mail Fraud Act

Adoption Of The Act

The first mail fraud legislation was adopted in 1872. As part of a general revision of the postal laws, Congress made it a crime to mail material intended to effectuate "any scheme or artifice to defraud" (An act to revise, consolidate and amend the statutes relating to the Post Office Department, ch. 335, § 301, 17 Stat. 283, 323 (1872) (repealed)). This provision evoked almost no discussion in Congress, so there is little legislative history to provide guidance to the courts.

The adoption of this statute, commonly known as the Mail Fraud Act, was an important turning point in the use of federal criminal sanctions, which previously had been reserved principally for conduct directly injurious to the federal government. The Mail Fraud Act, in contrast, extended federal jurisdiction to crimes clearly within the states' general jurisdiction and directly injurious only to private individuals, not to the central government. Federal mail fraud jurisdiction thus overlapped with, and was auxiliary to, state jurisdiction. The current version of the Mail Fraud Act is codified as 18 U.S.C. § 1341.

In 1952, following the pattern of the Mail Fraud Act, Congress adopted a wire fraud statute prohibiting "interstate wire, radio, or television" transmissions to effectuate "any scheme or artifice to defraud" (An act to further amend the Communications Act of 1934, ch. 879, § 18(a), 66 Stat. 711 (1952)). The Wire Fraud Act is now codified as 18 U.S.C. § 1343.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawMail: Federal Mail Fraud Act - Adoption Of The Act, Challenges To The Constitutionality Of The Act, Bibliography, Cases