For almost twenty-five years now, the internet has been a tremendous benefit to everyone, opening up worlds of new possibilities. Sure, you can watch television and listen to radio online, but you can also talk with strangers in Indonesia or visit the world’s greatest museums. However, some people also go online to commit crimes. Crime on the internet – cybercrime – is booming, and law enforcement is struggling to contain it. Five types of cybercrime that are common in California are:

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  1. Internet fraud: crimes conducted online to defraud others
  2. Hacking: accessing a computer for any reason without permission
  3. Identity theft or phishing: using the internet to steal data like Social Security numbers or credit card information
  4. Unlawful contact with a minor: using the internet to lure a child to a sexual encounter
  5. Child pornography: downloading or distributing child pornography using the internet

WHAT KINDS OF FRAUD ARE COMMITTED ONLINE?

“Wire fraud” is a federal criminal charge that covers almost any scheme to defraud people by using any kind of electronic device, including a computer and the internet. Internet fraud is often prosecuted as wire fraud in federal court. To convict someone of internet fraud/wire fraud under federal law, prosecutors have to prove that a defendant planned and intended to commit fraud using electronic communications.

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The fraud scheme does not have to succeed; the attempt to defraud is enough to convict a defendant. Under the federal wire fraud statute, a conviction for wire fraud is punishable with fines or up to twenty years in federal prison, or both. Almost any kind of fraud you can imagine is being committed online, but these are among the most common types:

  • Advance payment and non-delivery: You are asked to pay for an item – or for a shipping charge – online and in advance, but the item is never shipped, and your money disappears.
  • Fraudulent sale: You pay for an item and it’s delivered, but it’s not what you paid for – instead, it’s a fake, a counterfeit, or a “knock-off.”
  • Real estate overpayment: Landlords must be aware of this complicated fraud scheme if they advertise a rental property online. If someone contacts you about renting the property and sends you a deposit check for much more than the amount you request, and that person then asks you to wire the extra funds to another account, it’s a bad check and a scam, and you’ll probably lose any money you transfer.
  • Lottery and sweepstakes frauds: You’ve won the big prize! Or so you are told, and all you have to do to acquire it is to pay a fee or some taxes. Do not fall for this scheme.
  • Work-at-home scams: You’re told that an attractive and easy at-home job is yours if you simply pay a registration fee. Fully investigate such offers, and get references and testimonials, because these offers are frequently fraudulent.

ARE YOU AT RISK FOR ONLINE IDENTITY THEFT?

Social media is a wonderful way to interact and stay in touch with our families and friends, but some people offer too much information on social media, and an identity thief needs only a few vital pieces of your personal information. A typical Facebook profile provides a person’s name, date of birth, and hometown. That can be the first step for anyone trying to steal your identity, so it’s wise to make your social media profiles private. The more personal details you decline to make public, the safer you are.

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WHAT ABOUT WORK-AT-HOME OFFERS?

Whether it involves stuffing envelopes, processing insurance claims, or taking retail orders by phone, most victims never get paid for their work-at-home efforts or ever even recover their registration or sign-up fees. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 8,000 complaints involving work-at-home business opportunities. The FTC estimates that only one in every 55 of these offers is legitimate.

The FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule requires those offering work-at-home employment online to provide a one-page disclosure document with complete information about the opportunity. Use the details from the disclosure page to do your own research. Has the company been established for a length of time? Has it built a reputation? Have others been satisfied with the work opportunity? If you can’t find those answers, it’s probably a scam that you should avoid.

WHAT ARE THE ONLINE THREATS TO CHILDREN?

Regarding kids and the internet, Colin Hatcher, cofounder and director of CyberAngels.com, says, “Parents need to take the same precautions as they would if their kids were walking down the street.” However, unlike walking down the street, the internet is invasive and anonymous, which makes it particularly dangerous for children and teens. Real online threats include predators, pedophiles, and online child pornography.

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Due to the fact that the internet has become prominent in the last two decades as the predominant method of soliciting, viewing, and distributing child pornography, California law enforcement officials as well as the FBI cybercrime task force are exponentially implementing digital sting operations to catch these child pornography offenders. State, local, and federal law enforcement agencies actively and aggressively pursue, identify, and prosecute internet crimes against children.

If you are accused of an online crime, you must have a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer fighting for your rights. Whether you are accused of a financial crime, a sex crime, or some other computer-related felony or misdemeanor, you could be falsely accused. And sometimes, innocent people are confused or tricked into clicking the wrong link, and they end up accidentally or even unknowingly participating in an internet crime.

Internet crime is treated seriously under both state and federal law, and lengthy prison terms are imposed for the most egregious internet crimes. In Southern California, if you are charged with any felony or misdemeanor linked to computers or the internet, immediately retain the advice and services of an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney who can examine the charges and facts, protect your legal rights, and fight for justice on your behalf.

WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR CYBERCRIMES?

If you are convicted of online fraud for violating the federal wire fraud statute, you can be fined or sentenced to up to twenty years in a federal prison, or both. Depending on the details of the alleged crime, identity theft may be charged as either a misdemeanor or as a felony in California. If you’re convicted of identity theft, you’ll be fined, and you could serve up to three years in a state prison.

Child pornography cases are typically prosecuted at the state level, but federal charges may be pursued if there is evidence of wide-scale child pornography distribution. If you are convicted on a child pornography charge in California, you could serve three years in a state prison, but defendants convicted of federal child pornography charges can serve up to ten years in a federal prison. Additionally, in California, if you are convicted of a child pornography charge, you must register as a sex offender. Your job, family, and future will be affected for years to come.

It’s easy to get confused and distracted on the internet, click the mouse at the wrong moment or entirely by accident, and send the wrong message or download something you didn’t want. It’s also possible that another person has accessed your computer. If you are accused of any computer or internet-related criminal charge, remember that a charge is not the equivalent of a conviction. To obtain a conviction against you for an internet crime, a state or federal prosecutor must prove your guilt – and your criminal intent – beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you are interrogated or arrested for internet fraud, identity theft, hacking, or any internet crime linked to children, you must obtain experienced criminal defense representation at once. Exercise your right to remain silent, admit to nothing, insist on your right to have legal counsel present during any questioning or interrogation, and retain legal help at once. If you are charged with a cybercrime in southern California, immediately contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney.