Sentencing and Punishment for Online Fraud

online fraud sentencing

California state laws impose varying sentences for internet crimes and online fraud. The punishment often depends on the type of computer crime, the severity of the violation, the value of any losses suffered by the victim, and the defendant’s prior criminal history. The California Penal Code designates specific computer and/or internet-related crimes as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the type of criminal activity and the damage suffered, if any, by the victim. In addition, computer crimes and online fraud performed as part of other types of crimes may require prosecution for those criminal activities.

Online Fraud, Hacking and Phishing in California

Online fraud, more commonly known as scamming, can lead to harsh legal penalties. In general, computer crimes that involve unlawfully accessing, changing, or damaging a computer, computer system, or computer network may result in a fine, imprisonment, or both. Most online fraud or cyber crimes are known as “wobblers,” meaning they may be prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies. If you are convicted, you may be facing: 

  • $1,000 to $10,000 in fines 
  • Up to 3 years in county jail 
  • Restitution to the victim 

In addition, California law permits the courts to require community service or accept other forms of alternative sentencing. In order to receive an alternate sentence, a defendant convicted of online fraud or any other computer crime would need to demonstrate remorse and show the court that future crimes are unlikely.

Federal Penalties for Online Fraud

punishment for online fraud
Penalties for federal online fraud are severe

You can be convicted of federal online fraud if :

1. The charges involve the transfer of government-issued ID information (like a birth certificate, driver’s license, or social security number),

2. The charges involve the transfer of more than five (5) means of identification, or

3. You use someone else’s identification to obtain anything of value worth more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) in a one-year period.

If you are convicted of online fraud , the maximum prison sentence is five (5) years.

The maximum prison sentence goes up to twenty (20) years for second convictions for this crime and for instances of identity fraud connected with drug trafficking crimes or crimes of violence.

Unlawful Contact with a Minor and Child Pornography in California

Internet crimes involving child pornography and unlawful contact with a minor (luring a child for an unlawful sexual encounter, regardless of whether the encounter takes place or not) are sex crimes. In general, Child pornography crimes are wobblers in most cases; meaning, they may be punished as either a misdemeanor or as a felony depending on the circumstances, and can carry up to four years imprisonment in state prison as well as a fine of up to $50,000 (See Penal Code Section 311.10). However, possession of child pornography is a felony, punishable by up to one year in county jail, or up to 3 years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $2500.

Every person who contacts or communicates (using the internet, for example) with a minor, or attempts to contact or communicate with a minor, who knows or reasonably should know that the person is a minor, with intent to commit an offense specified in Section 207, 209, 261, 264.1, 273a, 286, 288, 288a, 288.2, 289, 311.1, 311.2, 311.4 or 311.11 involving the minor shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for the term prescribed for an attempt to commit the intended offense (See Penal Code Section 288.3)

Punishment of internet crimes against children and online fraud
Possession of child pornography is a felony punishable by up to 3 years in state prison

If the defendant has a previous conviction for a related offense, a five-year enhancement may be ordered to be served in addition to the sentence imposed.

If you are convicted of a sexual offense in California such as unlawful contact with a minor or child pornography production, distribution, advertisement or possession, you will almost certainly be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life pursuant to California Penal Code 290.

Please be sure to visit our section on Sex Offender Registration – Megan’s Law for more information on this practice area.

Federal Penalties for Child Pornography

Regarding child pornography offenses at the federal level, the statutory range of punishment is up to ten years for possession offenses and five to 20 years for receipt, transportation, and distribution offenses. Defendants with previous convictions for sex offenses are subject to increased statutory imprisonment ranges (10 to 20 years for possession and 15 to 40 years for receipt, transportation and distribution offenses).

In 2010, sentencing increased from 10 to 20 years in the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for possession offenses involving images of minors who were prepubescent or under 12 years of age.

Why hire Wallin & Klarich?

partners 2015 - cyber crimes defense attorneys
Contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich if you have been charged with online fraud.

If you have been charged with online fraud or a computer-related crime, you will face serious penalties if you are convicted. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 40 years of experience in handling cybercrime cases.

With offices in Tustin, Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Victorville, Wallin & Klarich has successfully represented clients who have been charged with internet-related crimes. We have over 40 years of experience in making sure that our clients are treated fairly under the law and that they receive the best legal representation through every step of the process. We will help guide you through all of your options and help you to win your case.

Contact us at 877-4-NO-JAIL (877-466-5245) for a free telephone consultation.

We will get through this together.

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