Criminal fraud involves a scheme to cheat or deceive another person or entity for financial or similar gain. It is considered to be a white collar crime, or, a variety of non-violent crimes generally committed in a commercial or business context for financial gain. Most white collar crimes are prosecuted by the federal government, and as such are very serious in nature.

According to criminal fraud law, any action can be an act of criminal fraud if it is intended to deceive another through false representation of fact, resulting in legal detriment to the person who relied on the information.

Simply put, if a person knowingly lies about an important fact in a transaction or relationship, and the other party relies on that misrepresentation of fact and suffers harm, fraud has occurred. It is important to note that fraud does not occur when a person provides a fact that they believe to be true, even if they are mistaken.

The basic elements of fraud in both civil and criminal fraud cases are the same. However, a criminal fraud conviction can result in fines and/or jail time. Additionally, criminal law has a higher standard of proof, which is beyond a reasonable doubt. What this means is that each element of the crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a defendant to be convicted of fraud.

In criminal fraud cases, whether or not the fraud was actually successful is not a determining factor. Rather, the mere fact that a person attempted and intended to commit fraud is enough to constitute a fraud charge. Depending on jurisdiction, as well as the facts of each specific case, criminal fraud may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony crime.

Alternatively, in civil fraud cases, the victim must prove the fraud elements discussed above in addition to proving that they suffered damages resulting from the fraud. The difference lies in that in a civil case, the person must show actual damages while in a criminal case, the prosecution only needs to show that the defendant attempted fraud.

What Is Computer Fraud?

Computer fraud specifically consists of any fraud that involves the usage of computers. The term computer fraud covers a considerably broad range of activities, and can overlap with other types of fraud such as wire fraud. Generally speaking, any deliberate action taken to defraud or misrepresent information in order to get something of value by using the computer is considered to be computer fraud.

Given the fact that much of our world exists on the internet, computer fraud is much more common, as well as internet fraud which will be discussed further below. An example of one of the most common forms of computer fraud would be identity theft, in which another person’s personal information is stolen.

Some other common examples of computer fraud activities include, but may not be limited to:

  • Computer Hacking: Hacking describes unauthorized access or entry into computers, computer files, online storage mechanisms, and other computer-related technologies. This entry results in a data breach, and is intended to obtain confidential information such as financial records, bank accounts, company client profiles, trade secrets, and copyrighted information;
  • Romance Scams: A romance scam involves a person making false claims to a victim during a courtship in order to obtain property or money. They make romantic intentions toward their victim in order to gain their affections; once the victim feels comfortable, the scammer uses their relationship to obtain money and/or property from their victim. Romance scams frequently involve catfishing as well as dating websites; and/or
  • Piracy: The most common forms of online piracy would be downloading songs and movies illegally. Many sites offer free servers which allow a person to download movies and songs for free, generally meaning that musicians and movie producers will experience potential profit loss.

Deleting or copying sensitive company information or files for personal gain would be another common example of computer fraud. Additionally, putting up a website or sending mass emails about a fraudulent business opportunity would be considered fraud schemes constituting computer fraud.

What Should I Do If I Am A Victim Of Computer Fraud? What If I Am Being Accused Of Criminal Fraud?

If you believe you are a victim of criminal fraud, you should first contact your local law enforcement in order to report the fraud. If there is sufficient evidence to pursue your claim, the case will be forwarded to your local prosecutor or District Attorney’s office. It is important to keep records of any and all losses resulting from the fraud. This may be especially important when restitution is a potential penalty. An area attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your legal options and how you should proceed once you have reported the fraud.

The penalties for a criminal fraud conviction can vary considerably, depending on:

  • The jurisdiction;
  • The severity of the fraudulent act;
  • The victim of the fraud; and
  • The amount of money or property that was lost as a result of the fraud.

A conviction of criminal fraud may include, but not be limited to, penalties such as:

  • Jail or prison time, the location of which will be determined by whether the crime is considered to be a misdemeanor or a felony;
  • Probation or parole;
  • Fines; and/or
  • Restitution.

Some examples of what the court will take into consideration include:

  • The severity of the fraudulent act;
  • Whether the defendant has any prior convictions, especially associated with fraud;
  • Whether the defendant is currently on probation or parole;
  • The amount of money or property that was stolen; and
  • The person or entity that was the targeted victim.

Penalties can also be influenced by the attitude of the community and/or the court towards this type of crime. An example of this would be how if the victim is the Federal Government, the charges may be brought under federal law instead of state law which would result in harsher penalties.

What Is Internet Fraud?

As previously mentioned, internet fraud is often associated with computer fraud. The term describes any type of scheme using one or more components of the Internet, such as chat rooms, email, or message boards, to do one of the following:

  • Present fraudulent solicitations to prospective victims;
  • Conduct fraudulent transactions; and/or
  • Transmit the proceeds of fraud to financial institutions, or to others associated with the scheme.

Some of the most common examples of Internet fraud include:

  • Auction and retail schemes;
  • Work-from-home schemes;
  • Identity theft;
  • Market manipulation schemes, or using false or fraudulent information to cause dramatic price increases in thinly traded stocks or stocks of shell companies, then immediately sell their holdings to realize substantial profits;
  • Scalping schemes, which are used to disseminate false or fraudulent information in an effort to cause price decreases in a particular company’s stock; and
  • Credit card fraud, in which the scammer uses unlawfully obtained credit card numbers to order goods and services online.

Do I Need An Attorney For Computer Fraud?

Whether you are the victim of computer fraud or are being accused of the crime, you should consult with an experienced and local fraud lawyer. Again, an attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws regarding fraud. Additionally, your criminal attorney can determine whether there are any legal defenses available to you, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.