Defining U.S. Federal Internet Crime
Federal Internet Crimes – Table of Contents
Federal Internet Crimes – Overview
Federal Internet Crimes are serious and can frequently be complex and challenging to understand. Another term for this is cybercrime or computer crime.
The government has made it a felony to use the internet to commit certain crimes, such as money laundering, child pornography, and identity theft. In addition, because internet technology is constantly changing, the laws and how the crimes are prosecuted remain ever-evolving to keep up with the advanced technology.
Moreover, there are numerous federal laws and statutes related to cybercrime or crimes committed using the internet. As outlined in more detail below, these are usually prosecuted at the federal level and can carry severe penalties, including long-term prison sentences, restitution, probation, a damaged reputation, and significant monetary fines.
What are Federal Internet Crimes?
The United States government has made it a felony to use the internet to commit certain crimes, often referred to as cybercrimes. “Internet” is broadly construed for the purposes of these crimes and includes the use of the internet on computers, cell phones such as “Smart Phones,” and the use of anything considered a computer network. This will be discussed more fully below.
Briefly, the crimes in this context can occur through the use of online activity, including using websites or making illegal solicitations via E-mail or “Instant Messaging.”
Examples of these crimes include money laundering, child pornography, and identity theft. In addition, many state laws also prohibit cybercrime. However, as outlined in more detail below, these are often prosecuted as federal crimes since the internet is involved in committing the crimes, and the FCC or Federal Communications Commissions, ultimately has jurisdiction over the internet.
Due to the serious nature of the crimes, first-time offenses can carry a minimum sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison and harsh monetary fines, restitution, seizure of property, probation, and community service. Depending on the crimes committed and the charges filed, life sentences in federal prison are common. These crimes are often committed in combination with other federal crimes and involve numerous victims, adding to their complexity.
Moreover, the activity involved in committing these federal cybercrimes can coincide with other state crimes, such as identity theft or fraudulent theft, which increases the penalty.
Federal agencies that often investigate these particular crimes can include the FBI and ICE. However, other federal agencies can also be involved, and the United States Attorney’s Office aggressively prosecutes these crimes. In addition, because of the severity and complexity of the crimes, as well as the severe penalties for conviction of such crimes, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney is essential to ensure the best possible defense and outcome for your particular case.
Types of “Internet Crimes” or “Cybercrime”
As outlined above, while state laws have been enacted to prohibit cybercrime, these are often prosecuted at the federal level since the Federal Communications Commission ultimately has jurisdiction over the internet. As a result, various types of online activity can result in prosecution for committing cybercrime.
Because internet technology is constantly changing and expanding, and the internet is widely used, cybercrimes are also typically considered as “internet crimes.”
Many people are familiar with the crime of “identity theft,” where an individual uses the computer, sometimes through an unsecured computer network, to obtain personal information about someone else, such as their financial information. Their goal in committing this crime is often to steal money from a person’s bank account, obtain credit cards to make unauthorized purchases, or obtain a new line of credit. Sometimes identity theft can coincide with other types of cybercrime or illegal activity, including crimes related to phishing or skimming or even child pornography.
Typically, the United States government investigates and prosecutes large-scale cybercrime or internet crime, where the criminal tries to defraud individuals or hack government computers. Prosecutors also focus on fraud which targets companies, businesses, or the government.
However, a fundamental aspect of federal offenses is that they occur because the particular crimes pass state lines. For example, it is incredibly easy to use the internet to engage in activity that crosses state lines, such as distributing illegal material like child pornography or soliciting minors for sexual activity.
Thus, almost any crime committed by using online or computer-related activity through a computer network can be charged as a federal offense. This includes so-called “white-collar crimes,” usually non-violent in nature and committed by those in corporate business or government professions. These types of “corporate crimes” often occur through money laundering or securities fraud. Convictions for all internet-related crimes can lead to severe penalties.
Below is a list of types of cybercrime:
- Internet extortion;
- Federal identity theft;
- Federal “Ponzi schemes”;
- Using the internet to bully, threaten or stalk people;
- Soliciting minors on the internet for sexual activity;
- Internet child pornography (governed by 18 U.S. Code Section 2252(A));
- Sexual exploitation of children (governed by 18 U.S. Code Section 2251);
- Hacking computers;
- Money laundering;
- Internet investment fraud;
- Credit card fraud;
- Unauthorized access of a computer;
- Unlawful altering of computer data;
- Trafficking in of passwords;
- Theft of service;
- Internet auction fraud;
- Information theft.
Examples of Internet Crime
Although there are numerous types of internet crimes as outlined above, let’s take a look at a few specific examples:
1. Federal Sex Crimes
Convictions will occur in the following scenarios:
- An individual produces sexually explicit depictions of minors to be imported into the United States. (18 U.S. Code Section 2260);
- A person in California transports minors interstate to Wyoming with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. (18 U.S. Code Section 2423(a));
- Someone transports a person from New Jersey to another state with the intent that such person will engage in prostitution or another form of illegal sexual activity. (18 U.S. Code Section 2421);
- An individual uses “interstate facilities” to disseminate information about a person who is under the age of 16, and they intend to entice or solicit them to engage in unlawful sexual activity. (18 U.S. Code Section 2425);
2. Federal Identity Theft
Convictions will occur in the following scenarios:
- A person misuses another individual’s identifying information through the use of the internet. Usually, this will be accomplished through obtaining personal information through an unsecured network or possibly through an internet purchasing scam. The identifying information can be personal or financial. It may include a driver’s license number, social security number, credit history, or PIN numbers;
- If a person uses another person’s credit card without permission to make purchases, they have committed internet identity theft and internet credit card fraud;
- When someone uses fake government documents, such as driver’s licenses, credit cards, or other official records;
- Individuals forging signatures on checks or credit cards.
3. Federal Auction Fraud
Convictions will occur in the following scenarios:
- Assume an innocent person places an order or makes a bid online for goods, such as through E-bay. The payment is made or processed, but the person never receives the merchandise. If the seller never intended to deliver the goods but fraudulently advertised the sale and took the money without delivering the goods, they have committed a crime;
- Suppose a person knowingly uses the internet through a site like E-bay to mislead a person to buy a defective or stolen item. In that case, they are guilty of the crime. In addition, if the regular U.S. Postal Service is used in these crimes, the person may also be guilty of mail fraud. Penalties can include hefty fines, imprisonment, or both.
Federal Internet Crime – Sentencing
This is one of the fastest-growing areas of law. The United States government has taken a harsh and firm stance on sentencing due to the serious nature of many of these internet crimes. As outlined in detail above, the government has made it a felony to use the internet to commit certain crimes, such as money laundering, child pornography, and identity theft. In addition, because internet technology is constantly changing, the laws and how the crimes are prosecuted remain ever-evolving to keep up with the advanced technology.
Moreover, there are numerous federal laws and statutes related to cybercrime or crimes committed using the internet. These are usually prosecuted at the federal level and can carry severe penalties, including long-term prison sentences, restitution, probation, a damaged reputation, and significant monetary fines. In addition, first-time offenses can carry a minimum sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison and harsh monetary fines. For example, computer-related fraud crimes can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison under 18 U.S. Code Section 1030.
Some federal laws and statutes that address these crimes are the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984 and 18 U.S.C. Section 1030, which relates to fraudulent activity in connection with the use of a computer.
Moreover, as outlined above, 18 U.S. Code Section 22521A governs the serious federal sex crimes of child pornography. Because many of these cybercrimes occur in connection with federal offenses, such as wire fraud or mail fraud, the charges and penalties are often increased.
Federal Internet Crime – Defending
You need an experienced federal defense attorney to assist you in defending against these serious crimes and potential convictions and penalties.
The government has most likely spent weeks, months, or years in obtaining the evidence they will use against you. This can make it difficult to defend against such charges. For these reasons, you need an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. The government has the burden to prove each element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. You are also presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. If the prosecution cannot meet the burden of proving each element of the crime, there cannot be a conviction. This is a high standard for the prosecution. An experienced defense attorney can help you prepare the best possible defense to challenge the prosecution’s case.
Each case is different. Depending on the facts and circumstances of the charges brought against you, an attorney may utilize one or more of the following strategies:
- Demonstrate that you have been wrongfully accused of the internet crime;
- Show that you have been a victim of mistaken identity;
- Perhaps you have been a victim of entrapment;
- Information used by the prosecution against you may have been unlawfully obtained through an illegal search and seizure, in which case that evidence cannot be used against you;
- You may have been an unknowing participant in the crime.
If you’ve been charged with Federal Internet Crimes in the Los Angeles area, contact us today for a free consultation. Your freedom depends on finding an experienced defense attorney immediately. The sooner you reach out, the sooner we can work on getting your case drastically reduced or dismissed entirely.
Our experienced criminal defense attorney will be sure to fight until the end to reduce or drop your charges entirely.
Call Us for a FREE Case Review: 310-274-6529
How to Win Your Case
We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:
- Don’t ever talk to the police
- Do not discuss your case with anyone
- Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
- Tell police you need to contact your attorney
- Never consent to any search by the police
- If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
- Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
- Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
- Information on your cell phone is evidence
- Early Intervention is the key