Advance fee schemes are often prosecuted under the mail and wire fraud statutes. Consider the adoption scam, where a scammer would send photos and fake medical info to unwitting parents who wished to adopt. The scammer would ask for money up front, to pay for medical expenses and to show that the parents were serious. Gradually the deal would fall through for one reason or another, and the scammer would disappear with the parents’ money, while the parents were never aware that the baby did not exist. When the scammer mails the documents to the parents in connection with and in furtherance of his scheme, he subjects himself to prosecution under the mail fraud statute. The common theme among advance fee schemes is a promise of a huge profit or some other benefit (like an adopted baby), followed by some delay or monetary hurdle (like a minimum deposit or unforeseen medical cost).
Another example is lottery scam, where a mailing will inform a person that they are the lucky winner of a large sum of money, which can be accessed only after they pay insurance, registration, and shipping fees. Often the victim’s information will be retained, as the scammer has marked them as a gullible victim. In some cases, the scammer will call the victim again in a couple of weeks pretending to be the police and tell them the scammer has been caught and the victim’s money can be returned if they pay a small processing fee.