Federal Consumer Fraud Convictions
Have Fallen 35 Percent in Last Decade

Table 1. Criminal Consumer
Fraud Convictions
Number Year-to-date 80
Percent Change from previous year -16.5
Percent Change from 5 years ago -26.7
Percent Change from 10 years ago -34.7
Percent Change from 20 years ago -60.8

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that federal convictions for consumer fraud have fallen 34.7 percent over the last decade. During the first ten months of FY 2015 the government reported only 80 new consumer fraud convictions, according to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). If this activity continues at the same pace, there will be a total of 96 convictions for the fiscal year — only the second time the total has fallen below 100 since the federal government began tracking this program area 29 years ago.

The data show that convictions of this type are down more than a quarter over the last five years, during the current Obama administration. And the number of consumer fraud convictions has fallen 60.8 percent from the total of 245 convictions reported in FY 1995 during the Clinton administration (see Table 1).

The long term trend in consumer fraud convictions going back to FY 1995 is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of convictions of this type recorded each fiscal year. Projected figures for the current fiscal year are shown. Each presidential administration is distinguished by the color of the bars. These comparisons are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.

Bar chart of shortyear
Figure 1. Criminal Consumer Fraud Convictions over the Past Twenty Years

This decline in federal convictions does not necessarily indicate there has been a lower incidence of consumer fraud. Fewer convictions may also reflect a shift in enforcement policies by each administration and the various agencies, the changing availabilities of essential staff, and congressionally mandated alterations in the laws.

Leading Investigative Agencies

Pie chart of agengrp
Figure 2. Convictions by
Investigative Agency

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead investigative agency for the largest number of these cases, accounting for nearly a third (32.5%) of consumer fraud convictions through July 2015. The Secret Service was a close second, accounting for more than one fourth (28.8%).

As shown in Figure 2, additional agencies with substantial numbers of consumer fraud convictions this year were the Postal Service (15%), the Internal Revenue Service (12.5%), and Health and Human Services (6.3%).

Top Ranked Lead Charges

The most frequently recorded lead charge so far this fiscal year has been "Fraud by wire, radio, or television" under Title 18 Section 1343 of the U.S. Code. Ranked second is "Mail frauds and swindles" under Title 18 U.S.C. Section 1341. These two statutes have generally been the two most common lead charges in recent years. Last year, for example, mail fraud was the most commonly cited statute in consumer fraud cases, with wire fraud in second place.

Ranked third were convictions under the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act under Title 21 U.S.C. Section 331. This offense has moved up in the rankings this year; it was ranked tenth ten years ago and twenty-second twenty years ago.

Table 2 shows the top lead charges recorded for consumer fraud convictions in U.S. District Court during the first ten months of FY 2015.

Table 2. Top Charges for Federal Consumer Fraud Convictions
Lead Charge Count Rank 1 yr ago 5 yrs ago 10 yrs ago 20 yrs ago
18 USC 1343 - Fraud by wire, radio, or television 24 1 2 2 3 1
18 USC 1341 - Mail Fraud - Frauds and swindles 14 2 1 1 1 2
21 USC 331 - Fed Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act - Prohibited acts 6 3 20 7 10 22
18 USC 371 - Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud US 5 4 6 3 4 4
18 USC 472 - Uttering counterfeit obligations or securities 5 4 20 26 14 -
18 USC 1028 - Fraud and related activity - id documents 4 6 7 5 6 15
18 USC 2314 - Transportation of stolen goods, etc 4 6 5 26 19 6
18 USC 1029 - Fraud and related activity - access devices 3 8 3 4 2 3
18 USC 2320 - Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services 3 8 4 9 5 7
18 USC 1001 - Fraud/false statements or entries generally 2 10 11 13 19 15
18 USC 1344 - Bank Fraud 2 10 20 13 8 11
Report Date: September 9, 2015
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Copyright 2015, TRAC Reports, Inc.