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As the internet and its uses evolve, information becomes more easily accessible. While this can make our lives convenient, it also creates new opportunities for less trustworthy people. This is why the laws are constantly changing to adapt to online criminal activity, especially where internet fraud is concerned. It’s important to understand how these laws might affect you before you get online. Understanding these laws will help you stay safe.
While there are countless schemes employed by criminals to steal from unsuspecting internet users, all internet fraud falls into one of four main types. Understanding how internet fraud is committed will help you take steps to protect against it. Alternatively, it can help you to avoid violating these laws by outlining what constitutes a crime in these cases.
Internet Auction Fraud
Also known as Non-Delivery of Merchandise, this type of fraud is common on sites like eBay, where users place bids for products. In some cases, the winning bidder will be obligated to submit full payment for the product as soon as the auction ends. The product may never be shipped or the bidder may receive a product of lesser value than that which was advertised on the website. In cases where the individual receives a lesser valued product, he will likely have to sign for the item, which obligates him to remit payment. In either case, the charge of Non-Delivery of Merchandise would apply.
Another common type of internet fraud involves using spam email messages to gain access to an individual’s computer. Email spam is intended to address issues that affect people on a personal level, so they will be tempted to click the links within the email messages. Once they click the link, a virus is downloaded to the computer that retrieves sensitive data, such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, or bank account information. The illegally obtained data is then made available to the sender of the spam message.
Spam email messages aren’t the only way that users expose their credit card information to cybercriminals. Some individuals set up fake websites that resemble the authentic website that the user is trying to reach. By creating a bank website or retail store website, cybercriminals can gain access to usernames and passwords, credit card information, and physical addresses. Once the user enters that information, the cybercriminal can use it to order merchandise, which they either keep or resell at a discount to unsuspecting buyers.
Some cybercriminals aim higher by targeting investors online. They may use social media or an email newsletter to tempt investors with an irresistible investment opportunity. They offer hot stock tips for a modest fee, but the tips are false or otherwise unreliable. On top of the fee paid to the cybercriminal, the investor typically loses whatever funds he invested in the stock.
While the penalties for internet fraud vary based on the type of crimes committed, they are all felony crimes. This means prison time may be involved in addition to fines imposed in criminal court. Also, you may be sued in civil court by the victims of your fraud. This usually means you will have to pay a hefty amount in damages or restitution as well as any fines a criminal court judge imposes.
If you are facing internet fraud charges, consulting a criminal defense attorney is in your best interests. Only an experienced legal advocate will know how to defend against these charges. Your lawyer may be able to arrange for a dismissal or acquittal of the charges, or he may be able to help you get a reduced sentence. While a prosecutor may not be willing to negotiate with a defendant directly, they may be more open to a plea deal in negotiating with a defense attorney. Generally, criminal defense attorney can obtain a much more favorable outcome in your case than you could get for yourself.