Criminal Law

Crimes Involving Computers

Computer technology and networks have given criminals yet another means of reaching and harming their victims. The crimes are not new, but the tools are. Most cybercrimes are federal offenses. Identifying and locating cybercriminals can be difficult for law enforcement.

Crimes Against Children May Carry Double Penalties

Cybercrimes against children include luring minors into sexual relationships through chat rooms and other Internet contact. Sometimes the relationships are entirely electronic - the exchanges take place only on the Internet. In other cases, the adult may try to make physical contact with the child.

Child endangerment is a felony, even when harm to the child occurs or starts in cyberspace. If an adult is convicted, online child endangerment can carry penalties as severe as life in prison - on top of federal penalties associated with computer crimes.

Most States Have Cyberstalking Laws

Cyberstalking can be either a misdemeanor or a felony charge, depending on the seriousness of each particular case. It's the same as physical stalking - following or harassing someone who doesn't want your attention - but it involves electronic contact instead, such as unwanted text messages or emails.

The category of cyberstalking also includes spreading personal or unflattering information about someone on the Internet, especially on social websites. Cyberstalking is usually a state offense, punishable by fines as well as sentences in county jail for misdemeanors or state prison for felonies.

Computers Can Be the Target of Criminals

The most famous Internet crimes are those that involve computer attacks. Viruses and other malware can be hard to investigate and prosecute because the affected computers - such as those owned by large corporations - are not always available to law enforcement.

Owners may be reluctant to turn their computer systems over to law enforcement for investigation. What's more, tracing viruses to their source often involves crossing international lines. Creating viruses and other malware is a federal offense that can result in up to 30 years in prison.

The Internet Makes Identity Theft Easier

Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses someone else's identity to take out credit and make purchases in that person's name. Email advertisements or phony websites often request personal details, such as a victim's Social Security number or an existing credit card number. Never comply. This information can be used to steal your identity and open new accounts in your name.

Offenders charge purchases that the victim becomes responsible for. Often, the victim doesn't even know that the accounts exist. In the meantime, non-payment damages their credit. Identity theft is a federal crime, and so is computer and Internet fraud. Such crimes are punishable by fines and 15 years in federal prison.

A Criminal Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding crimes using computers and the Internet is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.

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