Americans increasingly are spending more time on the computer to engage in everything from shopping to socializing. With so much happening online, it is no surprise that cyber crimes are also on the uptick. According to the FBI, reports of cyber crime have increased 400% in 2020.
If you live in Virginia, you could face federal or state charges. Having two overlapping laws certainly makes it confusing to determine what conduct is legally permissible. If you are facing criminal charges, or if you are worried that you are the subject of an investigation, contact a Manassas criminal defense attorney today.
Common Cyber Crimes
Multiple state and federal laws regulate conduct online, and you might run afoul of any of them. Generally, many people face criminal charges for one of the following offenses:
- Identity theft. Armed with personal data, an identity thief often poses as someone else for financial gain. For example, they could open a line of credit and rack up charges. Other thieves use a stolen identity to gain access to prescription drugs, which they sell or use.
- Any bullying done using technology can qualify as cyberbullying. Examples include using social media sites (Instagram, Facebook), a cell phone, or text messages. Virginia has several laws that might apply, including Virginia Code § 18.2-152.7:1.
- Computer fraud. Va. Code 18.2-152.3 makes it a crime to use a computer to steal, obtain property or services under false pretenses, or convert someone else’s property. For example, if you impersonate someone using their email to get money or assets, you have committed computer fraud.
- The state also criminalizes sending unsolicited commercial emails in Va. Code §18.2-153.3:1.
- Computer trespass. It is a crime to disable or remove computer programs or data if done with malicious intent. Computer trespass is very broad and can include using a computer to cause damage to someone’s property.
- Computer invasion of privacy. Snooping on someone’s employment or financial information is also a crime if done with a computer. It is only a crime if the defendant did not have authority to view the information.
- Online sex crimes, including solicitation of a minor (under 15) for sex.
Penalties for Cyber Crimes
The penalties vary depending on the offense a person is convicted of. Generally, crimes are charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, with felonies carrying much stiffer sentences. Both the state of Virginia and the federal government have their own sentencing guidelines.
To fully understand what penalties you are facing, you should meet with an attorney who can review the full circumstances. Below are the penalties for select state cyber crimes:
- Computer fraud. The charges depend on the value of the property stolen. If less than $1,000, a defendant can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. If the property is $1,000 or more, a defendant can face a Class 5 felony charge.
- Defendants can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class 6 felony depending on the volume of spam sent.
- Computer trespass. This crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but it can be a Class 6 felony if property damage totals $1,000 or if other factors are present.
- Computer invasion of privacy. Normally a Class 1 misdemeanor, the crime can be upgraded to a Class 6 felony if this is a second conviction or if the defendant sells or distributes the private information.
Most convictions result in imprisonment or fines. For example, a Class 6 felony typically carries 1-5 years in prison. For a Class 1 misdemeanor, defendants face up to a year in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500.
Fight Back with the Right Criminal Defense Attorney
Cyber crimes have unique wrinkles, and defendants need an attorney who understands how to fight these charges. At Leary Law, our Fairfax criminal defense attorneys have years of experience tackling cyber crime prosecutions. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.