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An Overview of the Federal Computer Crimes and Internet Fraud

Computers have infiltrated all aspects of modern life. From smartphones to kitchen appliances, computers are in everything people use on a daily basis. Of course, the most obvious and pervasive aspect of this technology comes in the form of the Internet. There are a few things that cannot be accomplished online, and some things that can only be accessed this way.

As technology has slowly become central to daily life, the regulation and criminalization of its use have increased as well. The federal government deems a number of activities performed via a computer as criminal acts.

The laws on computer crime are highly complex and require the services of a criminal defense attorney to defend against charges of this kind. A lot of this complexity is due to the inclusion of vague terms in these laws that prosecutors try to use to expand which acts are criminal.

California has also enacted its own set of computer crime laws in recent times, which only adds another complicated layer. Cybercrime is one of the more well-known forms of Internet fraud due to the plethora of news stories on the topic, especially around large companies losing sensitive data to hackers.

However, Internet-based crimes encompass a large variety of acts from the heinous –stealing someone’s identity – to the innocuous – using a partner’s password to access an online account.

Given the vast array of acts that could be considered criminal, having a basic understanding of what internet fraud means is important to protecting one’s rights.

internet fraud

What are the Federal Computer Crime Laws in the US?

Internet fraud is a catch-all term that includes doing anything over the Internet with the intent to commit fraud. The three most common types include:

  • fraudulent schemes, i.e., scams, over email or online;
  • phishing, or using the internet to obtain sensitive information; or
  • accessing a computer or data without permission.

The federal law is most concerning because it encompasses many different types of acts related to fraudulent schemes.

This law criminalizes any plan to obtain money or property by false pretenses through the wire, radio, or television and requires the government to prove:

  • the defendant planned to commit fraud;
  • the defendant specifically intended to con someone; and
  • the defendant used electronic means to facilitate the fraudulent plan.

The government is not required to prove the defendant was successful in deceiving someone out of person or property to get a conviction. The possible penalty for this offense is a fine, up to 20 years in federal prison, or both.

Federal Computer Crimes

What are the California Internet Fraud Laws?

California’s criminal statute on unauthorized access of a computer or computer data covers everything from the sophisticated hacker in Russia to the business partner trying to review business records when the other partner is sick.

The number of acts prohibited is quite extensive but includes:

  • knowingly accessing and copying or using data from a computer without permission;
  • knowingly accessing and damaging, altering, or using data on a computer to defraud others or wrongfully obtain money, data, or property;
  • knowingly accessing a computer without permission;
  • knowingly introducing a contaminant or virus into a computer; and
  • knowingly assisting someone to access a computer without permission.

The possible sentences for these offenses vary based on the type of damage caused but generally include a hefty fine and incarceration in county jail for a year or more.

Criminal Defense for Internet Fraud Cases

As can be seen in this brief overview, the law on computer crime is very technical and easily misunderstood. If you are accused of any computer-related offense, speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. These cases often require the gathering of specific data that can be lost if not secured early.

Manshoory Law Group, APC, located in Los Angeles, represents clients in both state and federal criminal court and can help you fight accusations leveled by the government. Attorneys are available 24/7. Contact us for a free consultation today.

Shaheen Manshoory
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