Cyber crime is on the rise throughout the U.S., and statistics from the Insurance Information Institute demonstrate the shocking frequency of these offenses. Topping the list is data showing that California ranked Number 1 in cyber crimes in 2018, with 49,031 victims. Plus:

  • The overall losses stemming from cyber crimes topped $600 billion in 2018;
  • That same year, almost one-third of Americans were affected by computer based offenses;
  • A Facebook data breach led to exposure of the personal information of 30 million user accounts; and,
  • More than $15 billion was stolen from victims due to identity theft cyber crimes in 2017.

California authorities aggressively investigate and prosecute those who commit computer and internet-related crimes. You could face fines, incarceration, and other penalties for a conviction on cyber crimes. The key to defending the charges is working with an experienced, knowledgeable cyber crime lawyer.

For more information, please contact the San Diego, California Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, to schedule a free consultation right away.

Overview of California Cyber Crimes

Cyber crime in California is essentially the use of a computer, a telecommunications network, or the internet to commit fraud-related offenses. The general definition of fraud is:

  1. Making false or misleading statements;
  2. Intending that your representations deceive someone into parting with money, property, or other items of value; and,
  3. The other person relied on your statements and did part with the valuables.

There’s a wide range of offenses that fall under the umbrella of cyber crimes, but they are generally classified into three categories.

1. Schemes to Defraud via the Internet

You could be charged with this offense if you use a computer to engage in a plan to commit the three elements of fraud mentioned above. Examples of cyber schemes to defraud include:

  • Non-delivery of merchandise, where a person advertises items for sale and accepts payment, but never sends the product to the buyer;
  • Advance fee schemes requesting a down payment for a product or service that the person never delivers;
  • Sweepstakes and lottery schemes, which induce a person to pay a service fee for a prize that doesn’t exist; and,
  • Fraudulent sales of products that are delivered, but don’t comply with the description that encouraged the purchaser to buy.

2. Obtaining Sensitive Information Through “Phishing” and Related Scams

This form of cyber crime involves trickery, often through email, text messages, social media, or other internet channels. A person may be charged by persuading the recipient to provide personal or financial information, and then using those details for illegal purposes. Phishing is distinct from identity theft because the victim knowingly gives out the information.

3. Illegal Access of a Computer

Commonly termed “hacking,” this crime involves unlawful access of a computer, network, or data without the permission of the owner or user. It can range from physical breaking into a computer to more sophisticated, clandestine methods.

Federal Internet Fraud and Cyber Crimes Laws

Note that there are also cyber crimes laws at the federal level, some of which are defined by statute. They include:

  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which prohibits unauthorized access to computers and networks;
  • Stored Communications Act (SCA), covering hacking into third-party networks; and,
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which protects transmissions of content and data.

However, other non-computer crimes may qualify as federal offenses because the illegal conduct involves use of telecommunications networks.

Penalties for a Conviction

Most cyber crimes are “wobblers” under California law, which means that they may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances. Factors that impact which way the wobbler goes may include:

  • Whether you have a prior criminal history;
  • The dollar value of the misappropriated property;
  • Possession of unlawfully obtained information, versus actually using it to commit another crime;
  • The number of victims involved in the fraud;
  • The duration and extent of the cyber crime;
  • Whether there were others involved in the scheme; and,
  • Many other considerations.

If convicted of a felony cyber crime, the judge has the option of imposing a low, middle, or upper term of punishment. You could face 16 months, two years, or three years in prison, plus a fine up to $10,000. For a misdemeanor conviction, your punishment may include one year in jail, a $5,000 fine, or both. The determination of whether to issue a low, middle, or upper term depends on many of the same factors considered when authorities are determining felony versus misdemeanor charges on a wobbler crime.

Pre-Arrest Representation is Critical

The nature of cyber crimes means that authorities must engage in extensive investigation to gather the evidence necessary to support the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard. Even though you haven’t been arrested, you do have rights. For one, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and also the California Constitution protect you against unlawful search and seizure.

Therefore, it’s critical to retain a cyber crime lawyer from the first moment you believe you’re being investigated. An attorney will ensure that any investigation by officials is pursuant to a lawfully obtained warrant. Plus, your lawyer can represent you in connection with questioning by law-enforcement. Though they’re well aware of your rights, police may attempt to elicit information and you could make statements that are contrary to your interests. They cannot attempt such misconduct when they know a suspect is represented by counsel.

Discuss Defense Options with a San Diego Cyber Crime Lawyer

If you’re facing charges or being investigated for cyber crimes, solid representation is critical from the start.

Our attorneys at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, have more than 35 years of combined experience fighting for the rights of criminal defendants.

Please contact our firm to set up a no-cost consultation with a member of our team. We can explain how these cases work and begin developing a defense strategy after reviewing your situation.