The frequency and severity of natural disasters are increasing each year. The most destructive disasters, such as wildfires, floods and hurricanes, can cause so much property damage that they can leave many homeowners stranded and without shelter.
But America has no shortage of people willing to help others through donations. According to The American Red Cross, it used $443.2 million in donations to provide food, shelter and other assistance to disaster-stricken areas in 2022.
You might think that soliciting money for disaster aid is a quick and easy way to earn a lot of cash. You might also think that sending mail asking recipients to “donate” cash to the noble cause of recovery isn’t really theft since they’re willingly giving up cash.
By federal law, a scheme to defraud people by posing as a nonprofit charitable group through solicitations mail counts as mail fraud. You can face severe penalties if you’re convicted of mail fraud.
Federal law on mail fraud
According to federal law, anyone who devises a scheme to obtain money through false representations (like a fraudulent letter asking for donations) and then has the falsified document sent through the mail is guilty of mail fraud.
If you’re convicted of mail fraud, a court can order you to pay up to $1,000,000 in fines and serve no more than 20 years in prison.
However, the penalty increases for anyone convicted of running a mail fraud scheme involving a federally declared disaster. A court will still ask you to pay a maximum $1,000,000 fine if convicted. But your prison sentence goes up to 30 years for trying to take advantage of a disaster crisis.
Mail fraud is a serious offense with harsh penalties. Even trying to send fake mail asking for donations as a prank can be charged under federal law. If you face charges, it might be best to consult a legal professional for your defense options.