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What Is Cyber Crime?

A cyber crime is a crime that is committed via the internet. It is hard to catch cyber criminals because they do not leave physical evidence. Furthermore, a cyber criminal can be committing crimes from anywhere in the world. Law enforcement officials are not yet adequately equipped to handle such criminal activity.

What Are Some Examples of Cyber Crime?

Cyber crime can take a variety of different forms. The more common ones are:

  • Cyber Stalking: Cyber stalking occurs when a person harasses or threatens a victim through e-mails or chat rooms. Such behavior is frightening and at times can be very dangerous. States have begun to pass laws aimed directly at cyber stalkers (at least 7 states so far) since typical stalking laws do not apply.
  • Cyber Terrorism: Cyber terrorists engage in behavior which steals data and shuts down computers. For example, a disgruntled employee might commit cyber terrorism by shutting down the entire network of his/her formal employer. Cyber terrorists act to devastate instead of for personal gain.
  • Cyber Theft: Cyber thieves steal financial records, national security files, and other confidential or personal information, often obtaining this information through hacking. Often this information is used for identity fraud. A cyber theft is committed as long as the thief accesses a computer without authority and takes data.

What Are the Likely Consequences for Committing a Cyber Crime?

Cyberspace is a new world where few laws have been made to fight criminal activity. However, people still get punished if they are caught for a cyber crime. Depending on the severity of the cyber crime, punishment can include:

  • Heavy fines
  • Probation
  • Restitution
  • Community service
  • Possible imprisonment

What Defenses Do I Have If I Am Accused of Cyber Stalking?

Cyber stalking follows many of the same rules as “in person” stalking, so many of the defenses will be the same:

  • No credible threat – Prosecutors can only bring charges if a crime can actually be proven. Lack of evidence regarding the cyber stalker’s intent to harm or preparation to act will defeat a cyber stalking charge. Repeated professions of love, while annoying, are considered harmless if no threat is behind them.
  • Mistaken identity – One of the most legally challenging things about the internet is the anonymity its users have. If the prosecution can’t prove it was the defendant making the threatening messages, then mistaken identity can be asserted.
  • Constitutionally protected speech – This applies more to defamation cases, although overzealous journalists may cross the line into stalking and its cyber equivalent. Journalism, however, often has a claim towards free speech which will be difficult for the government to overcome. 

What Defenses Do I Have If I Am Accused of Identity Theft?

Due to the way identity theft is often written by lawmakers, a few key defenses can get a defendant completely off:

  • There was no unlawful purpose – Identity theft requires that the “thief” actually make use of the information to the “thief’s” own person gain. If there is no illegal use of the information, there is no crime. Mere possession of personal information will not count as identity theft in many states.
  • Mistaken Identity – Due to the internet’s anonymity and the sheer amount of websites which ask for person information when purchasing or registering for a product or service, it can be easy for a victim to make false assumptions.
  • Computer or Software Provider – Some state laws have built in exceptions for computer or software providers who often have access to personal information. Provided that the providers act without the law, they cannot be charged with identity theft. 

How Can an Attorney Help Me?

Cyber crimes are growing rapidly as internet use becomes more widespread. If you are a victim of a cyber crime, there are attorneys that specialize in getting compensation for cyber crime victims. If you were charged with a cyber crime, you should also contact an attorney to learn more about your rights and defenses.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 01-09-2018 01:43 AM PST

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