Mailing a letter or a key stroke can begin a difficult journey through the criminal justice system in certain circumstances. The federal government can impose serious consequences for certain fraud crimes.
Mail and wire fraud
For a conviction of these crimes, the government must prove that the offender committed a scheme to defraud which involved a material deception with the intent to defraud while using the mail, private commercial carriers, or wire to further that scheme. This scheme has to lead to the loss of money or property or took away honest services.
There are two major defenses to these crimes. First, that the defendant had had a good-faith belief that the alleged false representations were true. This reduces any proof of fraudulent intent.
The second defense is the five-year statute of limitations governing the prosecution of these crimes. The time restriction for an offense involving financial institutions is 10 years. The statute of limitations begins running from the last obvious act to further the fraudulent scheme.
Wire fraud also has an additional defense. It must involve a communication crossing state lines.
The U.S. Department of Justice has a broad definition of computer crime which also incorporates computer fraud. According to the DOJ, computer crime is any criminal violation involving a knowledge a knowledge of computer technology for their execution, investigation, or prosecution.
DOJ has three categories of computer crimes. In one category, a computer is the object of the crime. This usually involves the theft of computer hardware or software.
In the second category, the computer is the subject of the crime. This is typically an attempt to interfere with legal services and activities provided by computers and their servers.
The third category includes the computer as the instrument used to engage in other traditional crimes. Mail and wire fraud, identify theft, child pornography and copyright infringement are among these offenses.
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984
Unauthorized access of computers and networks is also a federal criminal offense under the CFAA. This law was used to prosecute high level offenses such as the person who released the first computer worm in 1988, hackers committing computer abuse by stealing valuable personal or business information or breaking into computer systems.
However, it has been amended so that misdemeanors are now felonies. Minor and everyday infractions may be prosecuted under the CFAA.
For example, violating a company’s policy on using their computers for personal reasons may be prosecuted under the CFAA. Creating fake social media accounts is also prosecutable because this violates social media terms and services.
These investigations and prosecutions may be complex and daunting. Attorneys can help prepare a defense and assure that rights are protected.