MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
In February 1971 respondent Thomas E. Maze moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and there shared an apartment with Charles L. Meredith. In the spring of that year respondent's fancy lightly turned to thoughts of the sunny Southland, and he thereupon took Meredith's BankAmericard and his 1968 automobile and headed for Southern California. By presenting the BankAmericard and signing Meredith's name, respondent obtained food and lodging at motels located in California, Florida, and Louisiana. Each of these establishments transmitted to the Citizens Fidelity Bank & Trust Co. in Louisville, which had issued the BankAmericard to Meredith, the invoices representing goods and services furnished to respondent. Meredith, meanwhile, on the day after respondent's departure from Louisville, notified the Louisville bank that his credit card had been stolen.
Upon respondent's return to Louisville he was indicted on four counts of violation of the federal mail fraud statute, 18 U. S. C. § 1341, and one count of violation of the Dyer Act, 18 U. S. C. § 2312. The mail fraud counts of the indictment charged that respondent had devised a scheme to defraud the Louisville bank, Charles L. Meredith, and several merchants in different States by unlawfully obtaining possession of the BankAmericard issued by the Louisville bank to Meredith, and using the card to obtain goods and services. The indictment charged that respondent had obtained goods and services
Respondent was tried by a jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. At trial, representatives of the four motels identified the sales invoices from the transactions on Meredith's BankAmericard which were forwarded to the Louisville bank by their motels. An official of the Louisville bank testified that all of the sales invoices for those transactions were received by the bank in due course through the mail, and that this was the customary method by which invoices representing BankAmericard purchases were transmitted to the Louisville bank. The jury found respondent guilty as charged on all counts, and he appealed the judgment of conviction to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. That court reversed the judgment as to the mail fraud statute, but affirmed it as to the Dyer Act. 468 F.2d 529 (1972).
The applicable parts of the mail fraud statute provide as follows:
In Pereira v. United States, 347 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1954), the Court held that one "causes" the mails to be used where he "does an act with knowledge that the use of the mails will follow in the ordinary course of business, or where such use can reasonably be foreseen, even though not actually intended . . . ." We assume, as did the Court of Appeals, that the evidence would support a finding by the jury that Maze "caused" the mailings of the invoices he signed from the out-of-state motels to the Louisville bank. But the more difficult question is whether these mailings were sufficiently closely related to respondent's scheme to bring his conduct within the statute.
In Kann, supra, corporate officers and directors were accused of having set up a dummy corporation through which to divert profits of their own corporation to their own use. As a part of the scheme, the defendants were accused of having fraudulently obtained checks payable to them which were cashed or deposited at a bank and then mailed for collection to the drawee bank. This Court held that the fraud was completed at the point at which defendants cashed the checks:
In Parr, supra, the defendants were charged, inter alia, with having obtained gasoline and other products and services for their own purposes by the unauthorized use of a gasoline credit card issued to the school district which employed them. The oil company which furnished products and services to the defendants would
The defendant in Pereira, supra, was charged with having defrauded a wealthy widow of her property after marrying her. The Court describes the conduct of defendant in these words:
Thus the mailings in Pereira played a significant part in enabling the defendant in that case to acquire dominion over the $35,000, with which he ultimately absconded.
The Government, however, relying on United States v. Sampson, supra, argues that essential to the success of any fraudulent credit-card scheme is the "delay" caused by use of the mails "which aids the perpetrator . . . in the continuation of a fraudulent credit card scheme and the postponement of its detection." In Sampson, various employees of a nationwide corporation were charged with a scheme to defraud businessmen by obtaining advance fees on the promise that the defendants would either help the businessmen to obtain loans or to sell their businesses. Even after the checks representing the fees had been deposited to the accounts of
We do not believe that Sampson sustains the Government's position. The subsequent mailings there were designed to lull the victims into a false sense of security, postpone their ultimate complaint to the authorities, and therefore make the apprehension of the defendants less likely than if no mailings had taken place. But the successful completion of the mailings from the motel owners here to the Louisville bank increased the probability that respondent would be detected and apprehended. There was undoubtedly delay in transmitting invoices to the Louisville bank, as there is in the physical transmission of any business correspondence between cities separated by large distances. Mail service as a means of transmitting such correspondence from one city to another is designed to overcome the effect of the distance which separates the places. But it is the distance, and not the mail service,
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, with whom MR. JUSTICE WHITE joins, dissenting.
I join in the dissent of MR. JUSTICE WHITE which follows but add a few observations on an aspect of the Court's holding which seems of some importance. Section 1341 of Title 18 U. S. C. has traditionally been used against fraudulent activity as a first line of defense. When a "new" fraud develops—as constantly happens— the mail fraud statute becomes a stopgap device to deal
The mail fraud statute continues to remain an important tool in prosecuting frauds in those areas where legislation has been passed more directly addressing the fraudulent conduct. Mail fraud counts fill pages of securities fraud indictments even today. Mathews, supra, 39 Geo. Wash. L. Rev., at 911. Despite the pervasive Government
The criminal mail fraud statute must remain strong to be able to cope with the new varieties of fraud that the ever-inventive American "con artist" is sure to develop. Abuses in franchising and the growing scandals from pyramid sales schemes are but some of the threats to the financial security of our citizenry that the Federal Government must be ever alert to combat. Comment, Multi-Level or Pyramid Sales Systems: Fraud or Free Enterprise, 18 S. D. L. Rev. 358 (1973).
The decision of the Court in this case should be viewed as limited to the narrow facts of Maze's criminal adventures on which the Court places so heavy a reliance, and to the Court's seeming desire not to flood the federal courts with a multitude of prosecutions for relatively minor acts of credit card misrepresentation considered as more appropriately the business of the States. The Court of Appeals, whose judgment is today affirmed, was careful to state that "[w]e do not hold that the fraudulent use of a credit card can never constitute a violation of the mail fraud statute." 468 F.2d 529, 536 (1972). The Court's decision, then, correct or erroneous, does not mean that the United States ought, in any way, to slacken its prosecutorial efforts under 18 U. S. C. § 1341 against those who would use the mails in schemes to defraud the guileless members of the public with
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN concur, dissenting.
Until today the acts charged in the indictment in this case—knowingly causing four separate sales invoices to be mailed by merchants to the bank that had issued the stolen BankAmericard in furtherance of a scheme to defraud the bank by using the credit card without authorization and by falsely securing credit—would have been a criminal offense punishable as mail fraud under 18 U. S. C. § 1341.
As "part of his scheme and artifice to defraud," respondent was charged with "obtain[ing] property and services on credit through the use of" an unlawfully possessed BankAmericard and "by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises . . . ." App. 5, 6. The property and services were obtained from Citizens Fidelity Bank and Trust Company of Louisville, Kentucky, a BankAmericard licensee, Charles Meredith, the authorized card holder and user, and various persons and business concerns "which had previously entered into agreements with BankAmericard to furnish property and services on credit to the holders of BankAmericards. . . ." Id., at 6. The indictment also charged that the mails played an indispensable role in respondent's fraudulent activities:
Section 1341 proscribes use of the mails "for the purpose of executing" a fraudulent scheme. The trial court had instructed the jury that it could convict on the four mail fraud counts only if it found, inter alia, that "the mails were in fact used to carry out the scheme and that the use of the mails was reasonably foreseeable. The mail matter need not disclose on its face a fraudulent representation or purpose, but need only be intended to assist in carrying out the scheme to defraud." App. 37 (emphasis added). Viewing each fraudulent transaction as consummated at the time respondent received goods in exchange for signing the BankAmericard sales drafts, the Court of Appeals held that respondent did not cause the subsequent mailings "for the purpose of executing his fraudulent scheme." 468 F.2d 529, 535 (emphasis in original). The court below acknowledged that "the fraud was directed against the card issuer and the card holder," but it nevertheless concluded that the relevant perspective was respondent's. "As far as [respondent] was concerned, his transaction was complete when he checked out of each motel; the subsequent billing was merely `incidental and collateral to the scheme and not a part of it.' " Id., at 534, quoting Kann v. United States, 323 U.S. 88, 95 (1944).
The majority has uncritically embraced this unnecessarily restrictive approach to construing the statute. Like the Court of Appeals, it has selectively seized upon language in our prior decisions in pursuit of its notion that the fraudulent scheme ended when respondent duped
What the majority overlooks is the salient fact that the fraud in this case—and most others involving unauthorized use of credit cards—was practiced on the card issuer and not on the individual merchants who furnished lodgings and meals to respondent. As the Court of Appeals itself recognized, "[t]he merchants who honored the BankAmericard were likely insulated from loss under their agreements with BankAmericard. See Brandel & Leonard, Bank Charge Cards: New Cash or New Credit, 69 Mich. L. Rev. 1033, 1040 (1971)." 468 F. 2d, at 534 n. 3.
Nor had respondent's plan reached fruition. For his part, he may very well not have schemed beyond obtaining the goods and services under false pretenses with a stolen credit card. But from a legal standpoint of criminal fraud, this was only the first and certainly
Since it was the card-issuing bank that was actually defrauded, the mails were employed "for the purpose of executing [the] scheme . . . ."
The mails further contributed to the realization of respondent's fraudulent scheme by creating the delay in detecting the fraud that necessarily results from the time-consuming processing of credit card invoices by mail. See United States v. Chason, 451 F.2d 301, 303-304 (CA2), cert. denied, 405 U.S. 1016 (1971). During his two-week, $2,000 transcontinental spending spree, respondent took full advantage of this inevitable delay to continue his unlawful activities. If the motel owners had employed an instantaneous identification or verification system, respondent's fraudulent scheme would most likely have been nipped in the bud. But the simple truth of the matter is that they did not. As a direct consequence of the prevailing business practice of mailing invoices to the issuer for subsequent billing to the card holder and the system's attendant time delays, respondent was able to buy valuable time to postpone detection and thereby execute his scheme.
The majority mysteriously ignores prior decisions that 18 U. S. C. § 1341 reaches "cases where the use of the mails is a means of concealment so that further frauds
As previously indicated, the indictment here charged that respondent knew that the delay inherent in the posting and mailing of the credit card invoices would enable him to continue making purchases with the purloined card before his criminal conduct could be detected. Respondent engaged in a criminal enterprise that is by its very nature short-lived. Every time delay in the
The majority's decision has ramifications far beyond the mere reversal of a lone criminal conviction. In this era of the "cashless" society, Americans are increasingly resorting to the use of credit cards in their day-to-day consumer purchases. Today well over 300 million credit cards are in circulation, and annual charges exceed $60 billion. In 1969 alone, 1.5 million credit cards were lost or stolen, resulting in fraud losses exceeding $100 million. 115 Cong. Rec. 38987 (1969). Current estimates of annual credit card fraud losses are put as high as $200 million. Cleveland, Bank Credit Cards: Issuers, Merchants, and Users, 90 Banking L. J. 719, 729 (1973). Under the result reached by the majority, only those credit card frauds exceeding $5,000 covered by 15 U. S. C. § 1644 will be subject to federal criminal jurisdiction.
Yet this burgeoning criminal activity, as evidenced by the very facts of this case, does not recognize artificial state boundaries. In the future, nationwide credit card fraud schemes will have to be prosecuted in each individual State in which a fraudulent transaction transpired. Here, for example, respondent must now be charged and tried in California, Louisiana, and Florida. This result, never intended by Congress, may precipitate a widespread inability to apprehend and/or prosecute those who would hijack the credit card system.
"Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, or to sell, dispose of, loan, exchange, alter, give away, distribute, supply, or furnish or procure for unlawful use any counterfeit or spurious coin, obligation, security, or other article, or anything represented to be or intimated or held out to be such counterfeit or spurious article, for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice or attempting so to do, places in any post office or authorized depository for mail matter, any matter or thing whatever to be sent or delivered by the Postal Service, or takes or receives therefrom, any such matter or thing, or knowingly causes to be delivered by mail according to the direction thereon, or at the place at which it is directed to be delivered by the person to whom it is addressed, any such matter or thing, shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." 18 U. S. C. § 1341.
"The return of [the] check from Texas to California constitutes the mailing referred to in the First Count . . . . In mailing the check back to the bank in California on which it was drawn, the El Paso, Texas, bank sent `instructions to wire fate,' meaning to wire whether the item was paid or not. Upon receiving a telegram stating that the check had been paid, the bank in El Paso gave Pereira its cashier's check for $35,286.01, which Pereira promptly cashed on June 19, 1951." Pereira v. United States, 202 F.2d 830, 836 (1953).
"Whoever, in a transaction affecting interstate or foreign commerce, uses any counterfeit, fictitious, altered, forged, lost, stolen, or fraudulently obtained credit card to obtain goods or services, or both, having a retail value aggregating $5,000 or more, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."
The Court of Appeals felt that the enactment by Congress of the above amendment to the Truth in Lending Act manifested a legislative judgment that credit card fraud schemes were to be excluded from the application of the mail fraud statute "unless the offender makes a purposeful use of the mails to accomplish his scheme." 468 F. 2d, at 536.
Respondent contends that the passage of the amendment indicates that Congress believed in 1970 that credit card fraud was not a federal crime under 18 U. S. C. § 1341 or otherwise. Respondent also notes that the legislative history of the passage of the amendment indicates that the original bill, as enacted by the Senate, contained no jurisdictional amount limitation. The Senate-House conferees, at the request of the Department of Justice, later added the limitation of federal jurisdiction under the section to purchases exceeding $5,000. Brief for Respondent 16-21.
The Government contends that the Court of Appeals erred in attaching significance to the 1970 amendment, urging that there is no indication that Congress intended its provisions to be the sole vehicle for the federal prosecution of credit card frauds. Brief for United States 33-37, citing United States v. Beacon Brass Co., 344 U.S. 43, 45 (1952).
We deem it unnecessary to determine the significance of the passage of the amendment, since we conclude without resort to that fact that the mail fraud statute does not cover the respondent's conduct in this case.
The majority recognizes that prior to this decision at least five courts of appeals had taken a view contrary to that reached by the court below. Ante, at 398 n. 2. The Court of Appeals in this case relied upon United States v. Lynn, 461 F.2d 759 (CA10 1972), but the indictment in that case did not allege that the plan defrauded the authorized card holder or the credit card issuer.
"The most important of the many parties to such a system is the bank which issues the charge cards to the public. The issuerbank establishes an account on behalf of the person to whom the card is issued, and the two enter into an agreement which governs their relationship. This agreement establishes a line of credit under which the cardholder may incur obligations to the issuer by a cash advance or through a purchase of goods or services from one of the merchant-members.
"These merchants also have an agreement with the banks requiring them to honor all charge cards issued by a member-bank, and enabling them to deposit slips evidencing sales to cardholders in an ordinary checking account at the bank with which he has reached an agreement in return for a discounted credit to that account. These slips are then cleared and forwarded through an interchange system to the member-bank which originally issued the card and from which the cardholder will be billed periodically. The cardholder must then decide whether to make payment in full within a specified period, free of finance charges, or to defer payment and ultimately be charged an extra percentage of the amount billed." Comment, Bank Credit Cards—Contemporary Problems, 41 Fordham L. Rev. 373, 374 (1972) (footnote omitted).
Because the legal relationship between the parties is dictated by the terms of their respective agreements, the contract governs the distribution of risk for credit card frauds between the merchant and the issuer. Under most systems, with certain exceptions for negligence on the part of the merchant if he honors an expired card or one appearing on the current "stop list" or if he makes a sale for an amount in excess of the cardholder's credit line, the issuer assumes all risks for frauds. Murray, A Legal-Empirical Study of the Unauthorized Use of Credit Cards, 21 U. Miami L. Rev. 811, 813 (1967); Note, Credit Cards: Distributing Fraud Loss, 77 Yale L. J. 1418, 1420 (1968); Comment, The Tripartite Credit Card Transaction, 48 Calif. L. Rev., at 464-465.
" `As far as the merchant is concerned, he is in the same financial and legal position as if he were receiving certified checks on a bank that does not clear at par, with no risk that the check will be returned or payment stopped, or as if he were receiving cash at a small discount for the bank's services. This firm bank commitment is what makes the merchant willing to accept a bank card as freely as cash and what makes the bank card as good as cash to its holder (and without the risks of carrying cash).
" `Under these arrangements, the card-issuing bank takes all the credit risk, which is appropriate to the banking function it performs, the cardholder selects the merchant with whom he will deal, and the bank and the cardholder-purchaser expect the merchant to assume the merchandise risk. It is this division and allocation of risks between merchant and bank which permits the bank card to be used as though it were cash with hundreds of thousands of participating merchants throughout the country and abroad.' " Cleveland, Bank Credit Cards: Issuers, Merchants, and Users, 90 Banking L. J. 719, 723-724 (1973), quoting Statement of the American Bankers Association, the Consumers Bankers Association, Interbank Card Association, and National BankAmericard, Inc. to the Federal Trade Commission in the matter of Revised Proposed Trade Regulation Rule on Preservation of Consumers' Claims and Defenses, 4-5 (Mar. 5, 1973).