What is Cybercrime?

Cybercrime covers a vast and growing array of criminal activities that utilize computers, digital devices and the internet. Cybercrimes also include traditional crimes that are increasingly committed online, such as stalking, harassing, fraud and identity theft.

Cybercrime Definition

Cybercrime is defined as a crime in which a computer is the object of the crime (i.e. hacking, phishing, spamming) or is used as a tool to commit a criminal offense, as with child pornography, cyberbullying or cyberstalking. Cybercrime may also be called internet crime or computer crime.

Is Cybercrime a Federal Offense?

Many forms of cybercrime can be charged federally. For example, the federal Identity Theft law prohibits using any means of the identification of another person with intent to commit unlawful activity. This includes hacking into someone’s social media, email, online banking or credit card accounts.

However, whether or not federal prosecutors will bring charges in a computer crime case depends upon several factors, such as the degree to which federal agents played a role and any agreements made between state and federal prosecutors in the case.

Computer crime involving more than one state is likely to trigger federal charges. Interstate scams using email, fax or SMS can be charged as a felony under federal wire fraud laws. If convicted on wire fraud, sentencing can reach up to 20 years of imprisonment.

Other examples of computer crimes that may bring federal charges include network hacking, dissemination of child pornography, online child exploitation, money laundering and financial fraud committed using computer networks and the internet.

Common Cyber Crimes

According to the FBI, hackers commit common computer related crimes to target companies and their networks in order to steal data and information that is usually sold on the black market.

Cyber crimes also target individuals in a number of ways, such as identity theft fraud and online predators who use digital technologies to sexually exploit minors and children.

Six types of cybercrime:

  1. Online Identity Theft
  2. Cyberstalking and online harassment
  3. Cyber fraud such as phishing schemes
  4. Child pornography and online child exploitation
  5. Computer related extortion such as ransomware
  6. Cyber attacks and computer network hacks

Types of cybercrimes can be further classified into crimes against the individual, property cybercrimes and those that target the government. While uncommon, illegal activity aimed at governments is referred to as cyber terrorism.

If accused and charged with targeting or attacking a state or local government, it is almost certain that the FBI Cyber Division assisted local law enforcement. This increases the probability that the case will be tried in federal court.

Cybercrime Law

Computer crime has moved online and laws against cybercrime continue to expand in efforts to keep up with the rapid growth of device usage and a digitally connected world. Federal law enforcement agencies have taken the lead in defining cybercrimes and enacting comprehensive laws to combat illicit cyber activities.

Federal Cybercrime Law

  • Intellectual Property Theft & Piracy – A violation of U.S. copyright laws can happen when downloading or sharing files to the web without the creator’s permission. Copyright violations can result in criminal fines or in civil damages and legal fees.
  • Child Pornography – 18 U.S. Code § 2252 prohibits the use of computers or any other means in order to produce, store or disseminate sexually explicit materials of children, among other offenses. Maximum sentencing upon conviction is up to 30 years.
  • Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children – 18 U.S. Code § 2251 establishes several federal offenses involving the abuse of minors under 18 years old by enticing, luring or engaging them for sexual exploits and other abusive conduct by any means, including use of computers. A first offense conviction carries a minimum of 15 years in prison, up to a maximum of 30 years.
  • Cyberstalking is a federal offense that carries up to 5 years imprisonment. The offense generally takes the form of hacking into an acquaintance’s social media and/or email accounts, and then posting, impersonating and otherwise harassing the target online. Cyberstalking may also carry identity theft charges.
  • Identity Theft – Identity theft and identity fraud refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in order to defraud or deceive, usually for economic gain. This offense carries a maximum of 15 years imprisonment.
  • Online crimes may involve other federal laws and can be prosecuted under credit card fraud, mail / wire fraud, financial institution fraud, computer fraud and other statutes. Each of these are felonies carrying substantial penalties that could reach up to 30 years’ incarceration as well as heavy fines.

Massachusetts Cybercrime Law

In 2010, Massachusetts passed legislation that prohibits the act of sexting with a minor. The law against sexting makes it illegal for minors and adults to relay sexually explicit content to a minor through messaging systems on cellphones or other connected devices.

Forwarding, emailing, texting or distributing any sexually explicit material of a minor is illegal. A conviction for this crime carries penalties of 10 – 20 years in prison and a $10,000 to $50,000 fine.

It is a property cybercrime in Massachusetts to fraudulently obtain computer services. Tampering with or diverting commercial computer services without permission is a misdemeanor offense that carries up to 2.5 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $3,000, or both.

Other online conduct can be prosecuted under the state’s existing criminal or civil laws.

Defending a federal or state cybercrime requires understanding a complex set of laws and processes that differ from traditional laws. If you need a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney who understands how to prevail in these types of cases, contact my law office today and I will be happy to assist you during a free consultation.

Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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