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What Is Computer Crime?

Computer crime refers to criminal activity involving the use of a computer, computer networks or electronic devices. Computer crimes can be thought of as two broad categories:

  • Crimes that directly target computers, such as the intentional dissemination of a computer virus or other types of malware
  • Crimes that utilize computers to commit, such as identity theft or fraud

Given the increase of communication over the internet through social media, email, the web or other avenues, computer crime is becoming more common than ever before. As our laws catch up with existing technology, jurisdictions are criminalizing certain types of behavior related to computers. For example, several jurisdictions have criminalized the sending of spam messages or engaging in phishing scams.

What Is the Difference between Computer Crime and Cyber Crime?

Computer crime is a broader category, generally defined as any crime conducted via use of a computer or similar technological device (smartphone, etc.).

Cybercrime is often considered a subset of computer crime, one which is becoming rapidly more relevant in an increasingly technological era. Cybercrime typically refers to criminal acts conducted, or focused, on the internet and is often referred to as internet crimes. Most hacking, phishing and similar crimes would therefore be classified under the umbrella of cybercrime. Many times, the terms are used interchangeably.

Types of Computer Crime

Based on a general definition, embezzlement can be considered a type of computer crime if there is an alteration of a company ledger from a computer terminal not connected to (or which does not interact with) the internet. Since the crime was conducted on a computer, a material component of the case, but did not involve the internet whatsoever, this would be a strong example of a computer crime offense rather than a cybercrime offense. Common types of computer crime include:

  • Hacking
  • Money laundering
  • Sex crimes via the internet
  • Identity theft
  • Credit card fraud
  • Harassment
  • Cyberstalking
  • Child pornography and possession of child pornography

Examples of Cyber Crime

With connectivity to the internet via ethernet or wi-fi being standard practice for nearly all devices nowadays, cybercrime is the more popular term of the two. Many variations of cybercrime exist, covering many of the same areas of traditional crime.

Identity theft is an example of a common cybercrime involving hacking, phishing or malware components. By using any of these methods (or simply by purchasing personal details such as a social security number, credit card information or biographical data on the dark web), cybercriminals can easily pose as someone that they are not, damaging a person’s reputation, credit score and finances all at once.

Cyberstalking is also becoming a problem in the age of social media. Criminals who commit to cyberstalking typically harass their victims on various platforms, often hidden behind a cloak of anonymity provided by either the platforms or a solution such as a VPN (which can obscure one’s I.P. address and internet service provider details).

Online scams are another example of computer crime that can be hard to ignore. Typically, offenders purchase email lists — sometimes with personal information attached — and solicit the owners of these emails. The product offered may be fraudulent or entirely nonexistent, or the soliciting email may be dressed up to look like an official request from a government agency such as the IRS.

Federal Computer Crime Laws

The section of the U.S. Code concerned with computer crime or cybercrime falls within Title 18, Section 1030. The law centers largely around “protected computers” defined as computers owned or operated under the U.S. government as well as financial institutions operating within any of its jurisdictions and crimes related to unauthorized use or entry..

However, later subsections (a5 through a7) focus on the trafficking of federally protected passwords, injection of a virus into federally protected systems and extortion involving protected computers and their contents. The definition of protected includes systems involved in interstate commerce is broad enough to include almost all internet activity, and therefore many cybercrimes or computer crimes can be heard in federal court if the case warrants.

Penalties for Computer Crime

According to the U.S. Code, federal penalties for computer crime or cybercrime range from one year of imprisonment to a 20-year prison sentence, depending largely on the offense committed. You may also have to pay a fine.

Some cybercrime or computer crime is tried at the state level if federal prosecutors are unable or unwilling to file criminal charges. In Florida, for example, those who steal confidential documents from another person’s computer via the internet could face third-degree felony charges. The penalty for these intellectual property-related charges could see the offender serve up to five years in prison.

What Do Computer Crime Lawyers Do?

Computer crime lawyers and lawyers experienced in defending cybercrime charges have both the technical knowledge and legal expertise required to mount an effective defense. Facing computer crime charges without the aid of legal counsel is not advised, and could increase the likelihood of your conviction.

The increased use of computers and mobile devices to transmit sensitive data and conduct financial transactions has resulted in a tremendous increase in the number of computer crimes that occur. As a result, law enforcement agencies on both the local and federal levels have begun to engage in more aggressive enforcement of computer crime laws. In addition, the legal consequences of computer crimes have grown much more serious in recent years. It is important for anyone who is facing a computer crime case to retain an attorney who understands what computer crimes are and how to most effectively defend against these kinds of allegations.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorneys for Help

These are just a few of the kinds of crimes that may occur through the use of a computer or the internet. Computer crimes could potentially result in fines, restitution, being required to register as a sex offender, even incarceration. In addition, crimes that occur over state lines could result in a federal offense. Because this is an emerging area of law, it is essential to seek an experienced criminal defense lawyer who specializes in computer crimes and stays abreast of recent developments in the law.

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