Cybercrime has become such a common term, it’s hard to believe that computer and internet crimes didn’t exist less than half a century ago. Before computers, robbing someone required breaking into their home or snatching their purse or wallet on the street. Today, people can commit these crimes without ever seeing or contacting the victim.
Because so many different kinds of cybercrime happen “behind-the-scenes” or outside of the public eye, it’s human nature to think of these type of offenses as less serious than the act of a physical robbery or mugging. Some people may even wonder if an individual can go to jail for committing a crime online.
The short answer is yes — you can most certainly serve prison time for carrying out a computer crime. As cybercrime becomes more widespread, state laws are cracking down on online crime. Like many other states, Texas has strict laws regarding computer crime, and crimes carried out through use of the internet. It’s also possible to face federal charges for a computer-related crime.
Cybercrime Is on the Rise
Computer and internet crimes happen every day — and they continue to happen more often. By 2019, computer experts predict that cybercrimes will cost $2 billion every year. This is three times the cost of cybercrime in 2015. In 2017, cybercrime rose by 38 percent compared to the previous year. 1
In addition to targeting individuals, cyber thieves also target businesses. In fact, 50 percent of small or medium-size businesses were victims of cybercrimes in a one-year period. This has prompted more and more businesses to purchase cyber insurance, and efforts to fight back against cybercrime are expected to reach $80 billion annually.
Types of Computer Crime
There are a number of different offenses that fall under the general heading of “computer crime.” Texas law has evolved to include specific code provisions that make it illegal to engage in certain types of crime while using a computer.
- Financial fraud – It’s a crime to carry out financial crimes, which are often referred to as ‘white-collar’ crimes with a computer. Whether the person is accessing another person’s account unlawfully or uses a computer to manipulate account information or financial records, financial fraud is a serious crime that can lead to a prison sentence as well as expensive fines.
- Data theft – Most people conduct some type of business online, whether it’s shopping or booking a salon appointment. If you put your information on a computer, there is a chance it could fall into the wrong hands. There were 16.7 million victims of identity theft in 2017. Using another person’s identity unlawfully is a crime that can lead to felony charges.2
- Child pornography – Under Texas law, it is a third-degree felony to possess child pornography. It can be a first-degree felony to possess these types of images if prosecutors can show that the defendant intended to distribute the content. This can lead to prison time and mandatory registration as a sex offender.
Types of Internet Crime
While “computer crime” and “internet crime” are used interchangeably, you might sometimes see a distinction made for internet crimes, as these types of offenses can’t be carried out without the internet. For example, if you work as an accountant for a business, you can tamper with financial reports stored on the company’s internal hard drive. That’s an example of a computer crime. However, if you go online and harass a co-worker over social media it would be considered an internet crime.
- Harassing and cyberbullying – Texas law makes it a crime to harass or stalk a person, and this includes using the internet to do so. Texas also has a specific cyberbullying statute — David’s Law — that makes it unlawful for students to cyberbully classmates over the internet.
- Federal wire fraud – The federal wire fraud statute makes it illegal to use a communications device, including a computer, to commit fraud. When a person uses the internet to perpetrate a fraud, their criminal acts cross state borders and sometimes even international borders. This gives the federal government jurisdiction over these types of cases.
- Soliciting prostitution – In recent years, several Texas police departments have carried out complex sting operations in which they use the internet to take down sex solicitation and child pornography rings. While some people might argue that this is entrapment, the defense of entrapment requires the police to induce someone into committing a crime they would not otherwise have committed. For this reason, courts rarely rule than a sting operation is a form of entrapment. In most cases, these defenses fail. 3
While internet and computer crimes often have subtle differences, they can most definitely overlap. If you have been charged with a computer or internet crime, you owe it to your future to speak to an experienced computer crimes defense lawyer.
Broden & Mickelsen, LLP
Dallas Best Criminal Defense Lawyers
Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case.