In response to a steady rise in internet-based crimes, local and federal law enforcement organizations have begun putting greater emphasis on online investigation and deterrents. Though many people are familiar with the idea of “hacking” from movies and TV shows, the concept of computer crimes includes a lot more than that. Below is a Top 10 list of the most commonly committed cyber crimes. It’s important to realize that many cybercrimes are federal in nature, especially if a victim resides in one state while a perpetrator resides in another state. The internet doesn’t end at the state line, so jurisdiction over such crimes may be shared by multiple law enforcement entities.
1. Online Impersonation
This crime is by far one of the most commonly committed cybercrimes in existence. Under Texas Penal Code § 33.07, it is a criminal act to use another person’s name, domain address, phone number or any other identifying information without consent for the purpose of making a recipient believe that a message is truly coming from the impersonated individual. Though it is common to hear about people who are pretending to be someone else on the internet, if a person uses someone else’s name or other identifying information on the internet without consent and for the purpose of causing harm or committing fraud, that is a crime.
2. Social Network Fraud
It is also a crime to create fake profiles or to send fake messages to other users on social media. If a user of social media creates a fake profile to impersonate another person, without the other person’s consent, that action could be criminal. But a crime has only truly been committed if the fake user has the purpose of causing harm, committing fraud, or intimidating or threatening someone with the fake profile or fake messages. It remains to be seen if merely “catfishing” someone rises to the level of a crime under this statute.
Cyberbullying occurs when people use social media or the internet to intimidate, harass, threaten or belittle others. In Texas, cyber bullying is covered by several statutes. Some laws apply only to students, while others are applicable to everyone. In general, if a person or student uses the internet or any other form of electronic communication to threaten, harass or scare another person or student, this conduct may be a crime. Furthermore, such actions carry the possibility of civil liability as well.
4. Trafficking Passwords
Under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, several computer crimes have also become the focus of federal law enforcement efforts. For example, under 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(6), it is a crime for a person to, knowingly and with intent to defraud, traffic passwords if they may affect interstate or foreign commerce. This criminalizes conduct as simple as stealing an Amazon or eBay password.
5. Cyber Extortion
Cyber extortion, known by the rather less interesting name of “threatening to damage a computer,” is just the high-tech variation of old-fashioned extortion. Under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it is a crime to threaten to damage someone’s computer in order to extort money, information or anything else of value from a person. This crime applies to cyber criminals who threaten to delete, shut down or damage computers or systems unless their demands are met. Extortionists frequently use computer viruses, malware or distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to force their victims to comply.
6. Creating or Possessing Child Pornography
Creating, possessing or distributing pornographic images of a minor child is illegal, but this crime is still unfortunately committed far too often. Almost every state has outlawed the possession, creation and distribution of child pornography, but in addition, there is also a federal prohibition on the practice. This means that if this crime is committed, both state and federal authorities could seek prosecution. Local investigators are usually deputized by federal authorities such as the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security to investigate such crimes so that they can conduct their investigations even if a victim or perpetrator resides in another state.
7. Identity Theft
The problem of identity theft existed well before the development of the internet, but these days, technology has allowed identity theft to flourish. Identity thieves often use computers to steal and/or sell social security numbers, bank account information or credit card information. Though it is illegal to steal and use other people’s sensitive personal information, identity theft continues to grow in popularity, and it is rapidly becoming one of the most frequently perpetrated computer crimes.
8. Unauthorized System Access
Under both federal and state law, it is illegal to knowingly access a computer, computer network or computer system without the consent of the owner. In layman’s terms, “hacking” into another person’s computer or system is a crime. Though hacking is usually only committed in an effort to perpetrate one of the other crimes on this list, the mere act of hacking is itself a criminal act.
9. Internet Piracy
Though this crime is much less common than it used to be in the early 90s, internet piracy still occurs in certain areas of the internet. Internet piracy involves the unlawful dissemination of copyrighted material without the permission of the owner. This can include the illegal sharing of movies, video games, e-books and other software on the internet. Since internet piracy is regulated under copyright laws, piracy is a federal crime.
10. Online Solicitation
This final crime is one that we have written about before. Under federal law, it is illegal to use mail, the internet or any other form of interstate or international communication to solicit a minor for sex. Under Texas law, it is also illegal to use the internet, text messages or email to send sexual messages to a minor, even if there are never plans to actually meet the minor in real life. Penalties are particularly severe if the minor is under the age of 14. It’s a defense to prosecution if the defendant is no more than two years older than the child (Penal Code 43.25(f)(3)). Since this law has received attention in the media and is strictly enforced by law enforcement, instances of this crime have decreased over the years.
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