As technology grows and evolves, so does the body of law concerning cybercrimes and Internet fraud. The Internet has connected people from all over the world in never-before-seen ways, and with any form of new communication comes the potential for fraud.

Law enforcement officials, both state and federal, have been cracking down on cybercrime and using new technologies to track down suspected offenders. The California Attorney General launched an eCrime Unit in 2011 to investigate and prosecute identity theft and fraud, and there are now several U.S. laws on the books to punish fraud, wiretapping, and other cybercrimes.

Federal cybercrime charges can have devastating consequences for your life and livelihood. Federal crimes incur more severe punishment, including longer prison sentences and steeper fines, and as such, it is crucial to be proactive in your defense.

If you or a loved one is facing charges of federal computer crime, contact The Law Office of Peter Blair. Criminal defense attorney Peter Blair is well-known in the San Diego legal community and the surrounding areas for his aggressive yet compassionate representation. He will work closely with you to understand your unique situation and keep you informed throughout the process so you are never blindsided. Call (619) 357-4977 or contact The Law Offices of Peter Blair online to schedule your free and confidential consultation.

Legal Definitions

“Computer crimes,” “cybercrime,” and “internet fraud” are all umbrella terms for a wide variety of online offenses. Under both California and U.S. law, there are several different types of cybercrimes.

The most common types of cyber crimes fall into the following categories:

  • Phishing, in which you use the Internet or email to obtain sensitive information from others, including Social Security numbers, credit card information, and more.
  • Fraudulent schemes, or scams, in which you mislead someone through email or the Internet. There are a variety of types of Internet schemes, including advance fee fraud (where you ask someone for an advance fee before you ship a product, then keep the money and never deliver the product), fake prize sweepstakes, work-at home scams (when you offer an attractive job to an applicant who pays a registration fee, only to find out the job does not exist), and more.
  • Unlawful access, in which you access a computer or computer data without permission, either through hacking or less-sophisticated means.

Federal courts only have jurisdiction in certain situations, such as when the United States is a party in the case, when the case involves a violation of federal laws, or when the case involves citizens of different states and the amount reaches a certain threshold. Cybercrime cases are often prosecuted in federal courts because they involve victims from all over the country, not within one state, which makes it difficult to prosecute in one single state. Federal courts also have jurisdiction when the case involves federal laws, such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

In order to be found guilty of a federal cybercrime, prosecutors must prove that:

  • The defendant had a plan to commit fraud.
  • The defendant had specific intent to defraud someone.
  • The defendant used electronic means (i.e. the Internet or email) to further that scheme.

It is important to note that, while the prosecutor must prove that you intended to commit fraud, he or she does not have to prove that you were successful in doing so. Even if your alleged scheme netted $0, you could still be on the hook for federal computer crime charges.

Penalties, Punishment & Sentencing

When it comes to Internet fraud, many cases are charged under the federal wire fraud statute (18 U.S.C. 1341-1343). Conviction under this statute is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison, a fine, or both.

In certain circumstances, the penalties for wire fraud can increase. For example, if the fraud occurred in relation to a “presidentially declared major disaster or emergency” or affected a financial institution, it is punishable by up to 30 years in federal prison and up to $1 million in fines.

Identity theft is defined by federal law as possessing, transferring, or using someone else’s personally identifying information via email or the Internet with intent to commit a crime. Federal identity theft is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. However, if one of the following conditions exists, the maximum sentence increases to 15 years:

  • The alleged crime involved the transfer of more than five means of identification
  • The defendant used someone else’s identification to obtain anything valued at more than $1,000 in a 12-month period
  • The alleged crime involved the transfer of government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, Social Security number, or birth certificate

Federal identity theft is punishable by up to 20 years in prison if the defendant has a prior conviction for identity theft or if the offense was in connection with drug trafficking or a violent crime.

Federal law does not specifically address “phishing,” or tricking an Internet user into giving out personal identifying information. However, federal authorities can prosecute phishing under 18 U.S.C. 1028, which addresses fraud and identity theft. Prison sentences and fines for these offenses will depend on how the information was fraudulently obtained, what it was used for, and other factors.

If you use someone else’s credit card information in a fraudulent way, federal charges may also apply. Depending on the circumstances of the case, federal credit fraud is punishable by 10, 15, or 20 years in prison.

Legal Defenses

There are a number of legal defenses to use against federal computer crime charges, including:

  • Lack of fraudulent intent: In order to be guilty of a cybercrime, you must have had the intent to commit fraud. A federal prosecutor must prove that you acted knowingly and intentionally.
  • Lack of evidence: A federal prosecutor must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed fraud. Therefore, he or she must be able to link you to the Internet activity or emails in question and prove that you were behind it.
  • Police misconduct: Federal cybercrime investigators and other law enforcement officials have a duty to conduct their work professionally and in accordance to the law. Illegal search and seizure, entrapment, and other breakdowns in police process can cause the case to be thrown out.

Contact the Law Offices of Peter Blair

Federal charges have the potential to change your entire life. You are more than the charges leveled against you, and you deserve an attorney who will aggressively fight for you and your freedom. An experienced criminal defense attorney like Peter Blair can examine the details of your case and help you determine the best course of action for your defense.

When facing federal criminal charges, it is in your best interest to be proactive. The sooner you act, the better your chance of minimizing jail time or avoiding a conviction altogether. Mr. Blair can help develop a sound defense strategy that gives you the best chance at a favorable outcome, and he will fight for you and your freedom.

Don’t let these charges define you. If you are facing federal computer crime charges, contact The Law Office of Peter Blair. Call (619) 357-4977 or contact us online to schedule your free and confidential consultation.