Created by FindLaw’s team of legal writers and editors
| Last updated March 19, 2019
Computer crime describes a very broad category of offenses. Some of them are the same as non-computer offenses, such as larceny or fraud, except that a computer or the Internet is used in the commission of the crime. Others, like hacking, are uniquely related to computers. Read on to find out what kinds of activities are considered computer crimes and how to protect yourself from them.
Examples of Computer Crimes
Computer crime laws in many states prohibit a person from performing certain acts without authorization, including:
- Improperly accessing a computer, system, or network;
- Modifying, damaging, using, disclosing, copying, or taking programs or data;
- Introducing a virus or other contaminant into a computer system;
- Using a computer in a scheme to defraud;
- Interfering with someone else’s computer access or use;
- Using encryption in aid of a crime;
- Falsifying email source information; and
- Stealing an information service from a provider.
Losing a computer or a web account due to cybercrime can be very damaging, especially as we continue to rely more and more on these networks to conduct business. There are, however, certain things you can do to help protect yourself.
First, much of cybercrime is fraud involving the use of a computer. Learn the warning signs of fraudulent behavior and wire fraud. Be extremely careful when giving out sensitive personal information such as social security numbers and bank account access codes over the Internet.
Otherwise, take basic precautions for keeping your data private. Use passwords that are difficult to hack and change them frequently. Don’t conduct financial transactions on public computers or over unprotected networks. You should also install a good anti-virus program on your computer and keep it updated. Finally, be careful about downloading software from disreputable websites as it can contain spyware, viruses, or other malware.
Social Network, Cybercrime and Internet Sex Crimes
While bullying, sexual harassment, and child pornography are long standing crimes and societal problems, the Internet and social network sites have introduced a whole new arena for predators to practice their trade.
Cyberbullying is aggressive harassment that occurs using electronic technology, including cell phones, tablets, and computers using social media sites and chat-sites. Cyberbullying includes the sending of unwanted, abusive text messages, photographs, personal information, defamatory and libelous allegations and rumors, and the creation of fake profiles intended to harm victims.
Victims should report the crime to parents, network providers, schools, and law enforcement. Hate crimes are the most heinous of the various cyberbullying crimes, and they carry their own distinct set of penalties in most states, including additional jail time and sometimes mandatory prison time if connected to another felony. Hate crimes also peak the interest of the FBI, who prosecutes hate crimes and maintains statistics on the proliferation of hate crimes and other forms of civilian terrorism.
Child Pornography and Preying on Minors
Child pornographers and child molesters have unfortunately found the Internet to be a useful tool to prey on children as well. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has a special task force devoted to catching these predators, and if your child has been targeted, you should contact law enforcement right away. The DOJ has published a Citizen’s Guide to U.S. Federal Law on Child Pornography to outline the applicable federal laws. The Department of Justice also provides additional resources on Internet safety for children and the rights of child victims.
Get Professional Help Defending Against Computer Crime Charges
Computer crimes are the wave of the future, even if they’re mostly just new ways to commit old crimes (whether it’s identity theft, embezzlement, or something else entirely). Only an expert criminal defense attorney can be relied on to explain your situation and predict your best course of action if you’ve been accused of this crime. Find an experienced defense lawyer near you.