Internet fraud is a broad term that encompasses many different offenses, some of which may be prosecuted under either California or federal law. Fundamentally, fraud consists in using deception to get someone else to give you something of value. So any time you use the internet to complete such a scheme, you have committed internet fraud.
Internet fraud is a growing problem in the United States and the state of California. As the amount of business conducted over the internet increases, so does the amount of fraud. The problem reached such proportions that in 2011, the California Attorney General created an “eCrime Unit” dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of internet fraud and other cybercrimes.
If you are being investigated by the eCrime Unit or another law enforcement agency, you need an experienced fraud attorney on your side. Call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816 to find out how we can help you.
Internet Fraud Can Take Many Forms
New fraud schemes are constantly emerging as our technology and habits evolve. Some of the more established forms of internet fraud include:
- Phishing — When you impersonate a company or bank employee over email to get a customer to give up account details, you have committed phishing. Phishing is usually a form of identity theft punishable by fines and/or one to three years behind bars under California Penal Code section 530.5.
- Spam — Most spam is just junk mail. But some messages may contain links to harmful malware that can enable thieves to access your computer. Messages that contain viruses tend to offer free credit report checks, low-interest loans, free dating services, and sweepstakes winnings. When the malware is used to obtain credit card numbers and personal identifying information, this type of fraud is also prosecuted under California Penal Code section 530.5.
- Credit card fraud — Reputable online retailers do not save your data unless you give them your permission. But untrustworthy retail websites may save your credit card number and billing address, and then make charges to your account. Credit card fraud might also be achieved through phishing, such as when a person pretending to be an employee of your credit card company asks for you to confirm your PIN and account number. Credit card fraud may be charged under California Penal Code section 484e, which calls for fines and/or prison terms of between one and three years.
- Hacking — California Penal Code section 502 prohibits many forms of accessing computers and their data without the owner’s permission. Depending on the circumstances, the offense is punishable by fines alone or by up to three years in prison. In many cases, hacking is facilitated by deception. For example, the hacker may obtain passwords through phishing, or may even gain physical access to the target computer. These actions may entail further criminal penalties.
- Non-delivery of merchandise — On auction websites like eBay, you may encounter scams where a seller fails to deliver the product you paid for. Your efforts to contact the seller will fail, and you may be unable to get your money back. Alternatively, you may receive a product of lower value, or a counterfeit item, which is punishable under California Penal Code section 350.
The Penalties for Internet Fraud Under Federal Law Are Harsher
In general, the cost of defending against federal charges — and the potential penalties — are higher than with state charges. Federal laws against internet fraud are different than California laws because in many cases, you do not have to actually complete the fraudulent scheme to be convicted. A mere attempt to commit internet fraud may be sufficient for you to face crippling fines, and the possibility of prison sentences ranging up to 20 years in the most serious cases.
Contact a Los Angeles Internet Fraud Attorney Today
As a former prosecutor, Los Angeles fraud defense attorney Aaron Spolin is well-positioned to help you counter your internet fraud charges. Do not plead guilty to your charges before speaking with a lawyer, as there may be evidence to show that you acted without criminal intent. Call Spolin Law P.C. today at (310) 424-5816 for a free consultation about the possible defenses that may apply to your case.