Cybercrime Laws In The United States

cybercrimeComputer crime is a top concern of the legal community. And despite greater consumer awareness and advanced countermeasures, cybercrime continues to climb. Everyday, smarter criminals find creative ways to program disruptive viruses, steal intellectual property, commit identity theft, access financial information, and shut down corporate computer systems.

Computer crime involves both hardware and software, and the Department of Justice classifies cybercrime in three ways.

  1. Criminals target the computer. These crimes could include theft of data, viruses, or hardware theft.
  2. Computers act as weapons to commit crimes. Criminals use computers and technology to commit many kinds of traditional crime.
  3. Computers also act as legal accessories, storing incriminating information.

The Cost of Cybercrime

Cybercrime costs have surpassed the expenses caused by black market sales of marijuana, heroin and cocaine combined. Symantec, a major security service, estimates that direct crime costs companies $114 billion annually, but the costs of recovery from cybercrimes add another $274 billion.

  • Mobile cybercrimes affect 80 percent of men between the ages of 18 and 31.
  • About 14 adults become new cybercrime victims every second.
  • Brilliant computer skills no longer characterize computer criminals. Criminals and children can download hacking tools and use them easily.

Identifying Types of Computer Crime

Cybercrime refers to any crime involving computers, mobile devices or Internet services. The FBI investigates computer crimes, which often cross borders and therefore pose jurisdictional problems for law enforcement officers. Crimes fall into two general categories: crimes made possible by computer networks and crimes that target computers directly.

Crimes that use networks include the following offenses.

  • Phishing scams
  • Malware and viruses
  • Denial of service for malicious mischief
  • Identity theft and fraud
  • Information theft
  • Cyberstalking

Computer crimes cross international borders and often involve issues of free speech, obscenity, and libelous or slanderous postings. More than 25 jurisdictions place limits on speech and ban certain types of subversive, obscene or inflammatory material.

Common Types of Computer Crime

Online Predators

Online predators use the Internet to contact minors and lure them into compromising situations. As such, online predators have become the target of strong law enforcement efforts. Countries now work more cooperatively to make arrests in these types of cybercrime cases.

Computer Fraud

Fraud describes any misrepresentation that causes loss or gives criminals some benefit they have not earned. Fraud includes entering false information, altering instructions, and disrupting computer processes for personal gain.

  • Stealing computer information, changing, and deleting it qualify as fraud.
  • Fraudulent activity includes altering computer code for illegal purposes.
  • Criminal fraud also includes misusing software or changing how it works.
  • Computer criminals target people online for various financial scams, which have become so prevalent that many of these crimes go unreported.

Harassment and Stalking

Freedom of speech allows great leeway in most civilized countries, but directing comments toward specific people about their race, physical appearance, gender, race, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation are considered harassment. Stalking and cyberbullying also carry legal penalties.

Identity Theft

People steal personal information in many ingenious ways and use this information to apply for credit, jobs, or get unauthorized access to personal accounts or information. Common methods of stealing information include the following techniques.

  • Phishing scams use emails, spam, phone calls and other communications pretending to represent banks, utility companies or potential employers and ask for personal information.
  • Dumpster diving refers to criminals going through trash to find old bills and personal communications.
  • Skimming uses high-tech devices that steal credit information from debit and credit cards when criminals swipe them.
  • Criminals use a simple, low-tech method to divert mail—they simply fill out a change of address card and send it to the post office to intercept communications.
  • Simple theft involves stealing wallets or purses to get personal information.
  • Pretexting offers prizes or rewards on mobile phones, but the hook always requires confirming personal information.

Drug Trafficking

Drug sellers have disappeared from many city streets because they sell by mobile phone, encrypted emails, and advanced Internet technology. Unfortunately, buyers become much bolder when they can buy drugs with anonymity instead of facing dangerous criminal scenarios on the streets.

Cybercrime and Punishment

Cybercrimes run the gamut—from student mischief to international terrorism. The increasingly severe penalties for these types of crimes serve as deterrents as more people become aware of the consequences they might face. Cybercrime causes major losses of time, money, and good reputations, and judges and prosecutors have no choice but to treat these crimes with utmost severity.

Substantive laws include crimes such as online gambling, child pornography, theft of intellectual property, fraud, and identity theft.


  • The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006
  • Unauthorized publication or use of communications
  • Use of interstate facilities to transmit information about a minor
  • Criminal infringement of a copyright
  • Misleading words or digital images on the Internet
  • Misleading domain names on the Internet to deceive minors
  • Certain activities relating to material constituting or containing child pornography
  • Certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors
  • Sexual exploitation of children
  • Obscene visual representation of the sexual abuse of children
  • Transportation of obscene matters for sale or distribution
  • Importation or transportation of obscene matters
  • Malicious mischief related to communications lines, stations, or systems
  • Fraud by wire, radio, or television
  • Fraud and related activity in connection with electronic mail
  • Fraud and related activity in connection with computers
  • Fraud and related activity in connection with access devices
  • Aggravated identity theft
  • Criminal offenses related to copyright
  • Procedural laws refer to government agencies and their authority to get electronic data from Internet providers, third parties and computing devices.


Penalties for these kinds of crimes carry fines, penalties, and prison sentences.

  • Theft of telecommunications services carries fines and imprisonment.
  • Illegally accessing computers results in jail sentences from six month to five years.
  • Intercepting communications carries possible jail sentences one–five years.
  • Computer hacking or changing source code could result in prison for as long as three years and/or a fine.
  • Hacking a secure government information system carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison and high fines.
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