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California Cyber Crime Law – Types of Cyber Crimes

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What are the Common Types of Cyber Crimes in California?

The term internet fraud or cyber crime can refer to any use of the internet to commit a crime. There is a wide variety of California criminal laws as well as federal laws that can cover a wide range of behaviors in California.

The most common kinds of cyber crimes fall into five categories. These are:

1. Internet Fraud – Fraudulent schemes or scams carried out through email or the internet (Penal Code 484(e))

2. “Phishing” or Identity Theft – using email or the internet to obtain sensitive information like social security numbers or credit card information (Penal Code 530.5; See also Business & Professions Code 22948);

3. “Hacking” – accessing a computer or computer data without permission (Penal Code 502l);

Internet Crimes Against Children:

  1. Child Pornography – accessing or distributing illegal sexual materiel using the internet (Penal Code 311.11)
  1. Unlawful Contact with a Minor – luring a child for a sexual encounter (Penal Code 288.3-288.4)

In the sections below, our criminal defense lawyers will explain each of these in greater detail.

Internet fraud in California

In the most general terms, the crime of fraud consists of deceiving someone in order to get them to give up something they value (usually money).

This can be done in person, over the phone, or through the mail (mail fraud is a federal offense). There is no limit to the number and variety of fraud schemes that can be carried out over the internet. But here are some of the most common types:

  • Non-delivery merchandise fraud:

Buyers are asked to pay for merchandise by wire transfer to a foreign bank account but the “e-tailer” (often over sites such as Ebay.com) never sends the merchandise.

  • Advance fee fraud:  

Posting of internet classified ads offering great deals on expensive to ship merchandise for sale. Potential buyers are told that the item, such as a vehicle, is on the other side of the country but that the seller can deliver it to them for an extra fee. The seller tells the buyers that they need to pay in advance for the delivery and then the buyer wires the fee to a foreign bank account. The seller never delivers the item and never contacts the buyers again.

  • Real estate overpayment fraud:

A scam “renter” responds to an ad for an apartment for rent on a classified website such as Craigslist. He or she emails the landlord saying that s/he is living in a foreign country now but will be moving to the U.S. to study and would like to rent the apartment. After the landlord agrees to rent the apartment, the scam renter sends the landlord a cashier’s check drawn on a foreign bank account that is for much more than the amount the landlord requires as a deposit. The scam renter asks the landlord to deposit the check and then wire the extra amount to another bank account. After the landlord cashes the check and wires the funds, she/he finds out that the check the potential renter sent was fake.

  • Prize sweepstakes or lottery scams:

This is where someone sends an email telling the recipient that they have won a large prize and will receive it after paying certain taxes and fees; after the recipient pays the fee, they find out there is no prize.

  • Work-at-home scams:

This is where fake companies offer attractive jobs that can be done at home but require applicants to pay a registration fee before work begins; it turns out that the company and/or the job doesn’t exist.

Phishing schemes in California (PC 530.5; BPC 22948)

credit card fraud - cyber crime
Identity theft and credit card fraud through the internet is a popular cyber crime in the 21st century

Identity theft and credit card fraud through the internet is a popular cyber crime in the 21st century. The form of California internet fraud known as phishing is the practice of tricking an e-mail or internet user into giving out personal or confidential information (such as your credit card number) that can then be used for illegal purposes. A complicated network of California state and federal laws can be used to prosecute people for phishing.

California identity theft law (Penal Code §530.5)

If you are accused of phishing for obtaining someone else’s personal information (like a social security number) over email, you may be charged pursuant to California Penal Code Section 530.5)

Credit card fraud law (Penal Code §484(e))

Another popular form of phishing involves using email or the internet to collect other people’s credit card numbers, which can then be used to make unauthorized purchases. This kind of phishing can result in charges of credit card fraud under Penal Code Section 484(e).

California Anti-Phishing Act (Business & Professions Code §22948)

You can only be punished under California criminal law (whether for identity theft or credit card fraud) if you actually obtain other people’s personal or credit card information through internet fraud—in other words, if your phishing was actually successful.

In an attempt to crack down further on phishing attempts, including unsuccessful ones, the California legislature passed the Anti-Phishing Act of 2005 (Business & Professions Code 22948 BPC). This law makes it illegal to use email, a webpage, or the internet to try to induce another person to provide certain information (including social security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, etc.) by pretending to be a business without that business’s permission.

There are no criminal penalties for violating the Anti-Phishing Act. However, violators may be sued in a civil (non-criminal) suit by either a person harmed by the violation or the California Attorney General.

“Hacking” – Accessing a computer or computer data without permission

Internet hacking is another common form of California internet fraud or cyber crime, which involves accessing a computer, computer data, or a computer network without permission, often with some unlawful purpose. This can be accomplished by the technologically sophisticated way of breaking into a computer known as “hacking.” Penal Code 502 PC (also known as the “Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act”) makes this sort of activity a crime in California.

Internet Crimes Against Children

Child Pornography (Penal Code §311.1 through §311.11)

Common types of cyber crime
Child pornography and unlawful contact with a minor are common cyber crimes against children

Under California Penal Code Section 311.1 through 311.11, it is a crime in California to employ or use a minor for the purposes of producing or distributing materials depicting minors engaged in sexual activity. It is also a felony offense to possess “child” pornography even if one minor sends/receives a sexually explicit text image or video of themselves to another minor (known as “sexting”).

To be convicted under this statute, the prosecution must show that you produced, possessed, or distributed pornographic materials and that you knew or should have known that the persons depicted were minors under the age of 18.

Because the internet has emerged as one of the primary means of soliciting, viewing, and distributing child pornography, state law enforcement as well as the FBI cyber crime task force are increasingly implementing internet sting operations to crack down on child pornography offenders.

Generally, child pornography production and distribution offenses are “wobblers,” meaning they can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Punishment can range from a fine between $2000 and $50,000 to a four year sentence in state prison (See Penal Code Section 311.10). Possession of child pornography is a felony carrying up to 3 years in state prison and/or a fine of $2500. However, the most devastating consequence that a conviction can bring is a lifetime obligation to register as a sex offender in accordance with California Penal Code Section 290.

Please be sure to visit our Section on Child Pornography for more information about this section.

Unlawful Contact with a Minor (Penal Code 288.3 and 288.4)

Under California Penal Code Sections 288.3 and 288.4, a crime is committed when an adult contacts or attempts to contact a child “motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children.” An increasing number of incidents of this crime originate from contacts made over the internet and computers are playing a larger role in connecting potential molesters with their victims (See Penal Code Section 288.3-288.4).

Penal Code Section 288.3

Pursuant to Penal Code 288.3, if you contact or attempt to contact or communicate with a minor and you know or reasonably should know is a minor with the intent to commit the following offenses, you can be charged as if you actually committed the offense itself:

For those crimes listed above that are wobblers, factors such as the age of the child or whether the act involved violence or force goes into determining whether you will face felony or misdemeanor charges.

Penal Code 288.4

Pursuant to California Penal Code 288.4, if you arrange or attempt to arrange a meeting with a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd conduct with that minor, you may be charged with a misdemeanor and could face a fine of $5000 and/or up to one year in county jail. If you actually go to the arrange meeting place on or about the arranged time, you face a felony charge and can be sentenced to serve up to four years in state prison.

If you are convicted of violating Penal Code Sections 288.3 or 288.4, you most certainly face the possibility of mandatory lifetime sex offender registration pursuant California Penal Code Section 290. Sex offender registration is a life-altering consequence which negatively impacts not just the offender, but his or her family as well.

If you are charged with committing lewd or lascivious acts on a minor, you may have certain viable defenses available to you. False accusations of child molestation often occur, which sadly result in innocent people suffering the penalties of a wrongful conviction. A criminal defense attorney can guard against false accusations by attacking the validity or credibility of the accuser. This can be done by investigating the accuser’s background for any history of dishonesty or a bias or motive to injure the accused.

Please be sure to visit our section on Child Molestation for more information about this section. Also, visit our section on Megan’s Law – Sex Offender Registration for information about who must register for a sexual offense conviction.

Speak to a Wallin and Klarich attorney today 

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Contact the cyber crimes defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today

The Internet crime defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience handling cyber crime cases, with offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties.  Our team of experienced attorneys have the knowledge and expertise to structure and implement your most effective defense.

If you or someone you love is facing internet-related criminal charges, you need to contact an attorney at Wallin & Klarich today. We can provide you with the most aggressive defense available 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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