Computer and Internet Crime
Computer and internet crime takes a variety of forms under California law, which is not surprising given the fact that computers are a facet of everyday life. The federal laws are almost as comprehensive.
Computer-based crimes include:
- Internet fraud: fraudulent schemes conducted via email or over the Internet
- Phishing scams: tricking an internet user into providing personal or confidential information, such as credit card numbers, which is then used for illegal purposes
- Accessing a computer or its data without authorization: this is also known as ‘hacking’, and occurs when someone knowingly and without permission takes, copies, or uses data from a computer, computer system, or computer network.
Under Penal Code 502, internet fraud, phishing, and hacking are wobblers, meaning that they can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. Punishment can be a fine of up to $10,000 and up to three years in jail for a felony offense, while misdemeanors can draw a one-year jail sentence and / or a fine of up to $5,000.
If someone knowingly provides someone else with unauthorized access to a computer and its data (but no injury results), they are guilty of an infraction and can be fined up to $1,000. Second offenders can be charged with a misdemeanor if the victim suffers a loss of no more than $5,000. Losses of more than $5,000 turn the offense into a wobbler, risking a felony charge and conviction.
Infecting a computer (or a system or network) with a contaminant such as a virus or worm is punished as a misdemeanor on the first offense, but second offenses or first ones that result in injury are treated as wobblers.
In addition to these criminal penalties, defendants can be sued for damages by the owner of the damaged computer equipment or data. Equipment used to commit the offenses may be subject to seizure under California’s asset forfeiture laws.
Under 18 U.S.C. 1030, the federal computer fraud and abuse statute, it is illegal to damage a bank or government computer or a computer that plays a role in interstate or foreign commerce, or use it for fraudulent activity. Penalties range from one year in prison to life, depending on the severity of the offense and damage
Credit card fraud, Identity theft, Mail fraud, Wire fraud
If a person learns that they are the focus of an investigation into a computer and internet crime, they should retain a California criminal defense attorney to prepare for a possible arrest. Because a conviction would result in a criminal record and all the attendant repercussions, it is important to hire a defense attorney with experience in defending cybercrimes.
If a person can demonstrate that they had reasonable grounds to believe that they were authorized to access the computer in question they have a viable defense. Other defenses include mental incapacity and proof that others could have committed the crime.
In February 1995 the FBI arrested Kevin Mitnick on federal charges related to computer hacking. He confessed to four counts of wire fraud, two counts of computer fraud and one count of illegally intercepting a wire communication. After appearing before the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, Mitnick was sentenced to 46 months in prison plus 22 months for violating the terms of an earlier supervised release sentence. Mitnick served five years in prison and was released in 2000. He now runs a computer security consultancy.