Computer Fraud Defense Lawyer
Under 18 U.S.C. § 1030, certain types of Computer Fraud are punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years and up to 20 years if the defendant has been convicted under another offense.
In the United States, prosecutor’s offices at the state and federal levels take computer fraud crimes extremely seriously. There are numerous laws relating to computer fraud that provide severe punishment up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and decades behind bars even for a single first-time offense.
Computer Fraud and Abuse Explained
One of the primary statutes that federal prosecutors use to bring charges for computer fraud is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Originally enacted as an amendment to the Counterfeit Access Device and Abuse Act of 1984, the CFAA is a federal law that makes it a crime to access a “protected computer” without authorization. The CFAA prohibits seven specific types of fraudulent activity in relation to this unauthorized access:
- Obtaining access to national security information stored on a U.S. Government computer
- Compromising the confidentiality of any financial, credit, U.S. Government, or other sensitive information
- Interfering with U.S. Government operations or trespassing on a government computer
- Using access to a protected computer to commit a fraud or obtain something of value
- Causing damage to a protected computer or electronically-stored information
- Trafficking in computer passwords
The CFAA defines a “protected computer” as (i) any computer belonging to a financial institution or the U.S. Government, and (ii) a computer used in interstate or foreign commerce. The inclusion of computers used in interstate commerce was added in 1996 and significantly expands the scope of the CFAA’s applicability. With the ways that most people and businesses use their computers, virtually any computer could be deemed “protected” under the expanded CFAA.
Importantly, the CFAA applies not only to using or accessing a computer entirely without authorization but to exceeding authorized access as well. As a result, say for example that you have limited authorized access to a computer and you bypass its access controls in order to steal confidential or proprietary information. In that case, even though you were allowed to use the computer, you could still face charges under the CFAA.
Other Federal Computer Fraud Statutes
In addition to the CFAA, other federal statutes that may be implicated in cases involving computer fraud include:
- Stored Communications Act (SCA) While the CFAA applies to unauthorized access to computers, the SCA applies to unauthorized access to any (facility through which an electronic communication service is provided.) This includes email systems and other services for sending and receiving communications, as well as cloud-based storage platforms.
- Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) Passed in the pre-World Wide Web era in 1986, the ECPA now governs online privacy in everything from social media to documents stored in the cloud. The ECPA is important not only because of its prohibitions but because of how easy it makes it for the federal government to conduct electronic surveillance and obtain emails and other personal information from web-based service providers.
- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) COPPA is designed to protect against improper use of information collected online from children under age 13. It applies to app developers and operators of commercial websites. COPPA has strict guidelines for websites and games aimed at children, and violators can potentially face millions of dollars in fines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Our attorneys have extensive experience representing clients charged under these and other state and federal statutes as well.
Defending Against Computer Fraud Charges
At the Oberheiden, P.C., we provide experienced, aggressive, and dedicated representation for individuals facing computer fraud charges across the country. Since computer fraud cases typically involve complex issues that are both legal and technical in nature, it is important to hire a law firm that understands not only the law, but all of the technological concepts that will be involved as well. As experienced criminal defense lawyers, former federal prosecutors, and forensic fraud examiners who regularly handle cases involving computer-related crimes, we have the background and know-how necessary to provide you with the strongest possible defense.
Penalties for Computer Fraud
In most cases, attempted violations of the CFAA can lead to fines and up to a 10-year prison sentence. However, for second and subsequent offenses and in cases involving extenuating circumstances, the penalties can increase substantially. Note that we said, “attempted violations.” This means that prosecutors can seek full punishment under the CFAA even if you do not actually gain unauthorized access or if the government stops you before you commit a theft or fraud.
Contact Oberheiden, P.C. to Discuss Your Case Today
If you are facing charges for computer fraud or violation of any state or federal computer statute, we encourage you to contact us right away. We offer free, no-obligation consultations, and we can help you understand the severity of your situation and the steps you need to take to protect yourself. To speak with one of our experienced computer fraud attorneys, call (888) 727-5154 or contact us online today.
Dr. Nick Oberheiden is a national litigation and trial criminal defense attorney who practices exclusively in the area of federal law.