4 Cybercrimes That Can Lead to Federal Charges

Cybercrimes include a wide variety of illegal activities conducted online or through computer networks. With the development of more advanced technology, cybercrimes have become more sophisticated, prompting federal law enforcement agencies to focus more resources on investigating and prosecuting people involved in computer and online crimes. 


While cybercrimes may sound like an activity requiring sophisticated technical skills, the reality is that even those with limited understanding of computers can become involved in a cybercrime that exposes them to prosecution by the federal government.   


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, our federal cybercrime defense attorneys believe that everyone should understand precisely what cybercrime is and recognize that federal criminal law prohibits a wide scope of activities that someone might be surprised constitute a federal crime. If you are under investigation or charged with an offense involving the use of a computer, an internet connection, or another digital device, contact our federal Florida cybercrime defense lawyers for immediate help. 


The U.S. Department of Justice and its affiliated agencies are charged with investigating and prosecuting cybercrimes. The federal government has the primary enforcement responsibility because these offenses use interstate and international communications infrastructures that are beyond the capacity of individual states to police and prosecute. 


Some of the most prosecuted cybercrimes engaged in by people with a diverse range of technical skills include the following: 



 1. Identity Theft and Fraud


Identity theft is among the most common cybercrimes. It involves the unauthorized acquisition and use of someone’s personal identification information for fraudulent purposes. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (18 U.S. Code § 1028) makes it a federal crime “to knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or otherwise promote, carry on, or facilitate any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law or a felony under State or local law.”  


Even without sophisticated technological skills, this offense can be committed simply by using another person’s credit card without their authorization, holding yourself out as the person who owns the account. Of course, more complex forms of this crime can involve multiple coconspirators in massive identity fraud schemes that steal personal identification information from databases belonging to large retailers and other companies. 


Sharing another person’s identification information, account numbers, social security numbers, and other similar information with another person for the purpose of engaging in fraud or other illegal activity is also subject to federal prosecution.  

Defines such “means of identification” as any name or number that may be used to identify a specific individual. This statute not only addresses the misuse of another person’s identity but also the transfer, possession, or creation of false identification. 


Under federal law, individuals convicted of identity theft can face up to 15 years in prison and substantial fines and restitution payments to victims. The restitution includes payment to correct credit reporting agency information generated by the offender’s illegal activity. The severity of penalties often escalates with the magnitude of the fraud and with aggravating factors, such as targeting vulnerable populations or facilitating acts of terrorism. 


 2. Computer Hacking and Unauthorized Access


Computer hacking, defined as gaining unauthorized access to a computer system, network, or database, is another cybercrime that can result in federal criminal charges. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) (18 U.S. Code §1030) is the primary federal statute that criminalizes unauthorized access or exceeding authorized access to protected computers, resulting in damage or the theft of information, financial data, or other valuable assets. 


Conviction for a violation of the CFAA can result in penalties ranging from misdemeanor charges for minor offenses to felony charges for more severe acts. Severe acts would include those causing significant damage to critical infrastructure systems or one endangering national security.  


Penalties for computer hacking include up to 10 years in federal prison per count, plus substantial fines and restitution to the victim for damages. can include imprisonment, fines, and restitution. The law also allows for civil actions by victims seeking compensation for damages. For a second conviction under this statute or for an attempt to commit a violation following a previous such conviction, the penalty rises to a prison term of up to 20 years per count. 


 3. Cyberstalking and Online Harassment


Cyberstalking and online harassment are among the cybercrimes requiring the least technological sophistication. In fact, anyone can commit this offense through virtually any digital device, social media platform, or even by email. 


These crimes involve the use of any electronic communication technologies to stalk, harass, or threaten another individual, causing them to suffer fear or significant emotional distress. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (42 U.S. Code §136(III)) and other provisions, such as 18 U.S.C. 875(c), criminalize stalking and harassment, including cyberstalking, across state lines or international borders. 


Federal charges related to cyberstalking or threats communicated through computers can carry severe penalties, including up to five years in federal prison for each such threat, especially when the behavior results in physical harm, involves the use of a deadly weapon, or targets specific federally protected activities. The federal government takes these offenses seriously, reflecting the grave impact they can have on victims’ lives. 


 4. Online Child Exploitation


Engaging in any form of child exploitation online carries severe penalties under federal criminal statutes. Under 18 U.S. Code §2251, violators of this statute face a minimum prison sentence of 15 years and up to 30 years for each count. If the individual has previous convictions under this statute or of “any State relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, abusive sexual contact involving a minor or ward, or sex trafficking of children, or the production, possession, receipt, mailing, sale, distribution, shipment, or transportation of child pornography,” then the penalty rises to between 25 and 50 years in prison.  


A person convicted under this statute following two prior convictions as outlined above is subject to a prison sentence from a minimum of 35 years to a maximum of life in prison.  


In 2022 alone, federal prosecution of charges involving online child exploitation resulted in well over 2,000 convictions. 


Federal Cybercrime Defense Strategies 


Defending federal charges for cybercrimes requires a deep understanding of the statutory law to develop and execute effective defense strategies on the defendant’s behalf.  


Experienced federal cybercrime defense attorneys possess the necessary skill and knowledge required to press an effective criminal defense and to exploit the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of a federal prosecutor’s evidence. 


Some of the important factors that influence the outcome of a cybercrime prosecution include the following:


Jurisdiction and Venue: Federal charges can be brought in any jurisdiction where the crime took effect, which, in the realm of cybercrime, could be nationwide or even global. Defendants must understand the implications of facing charges in a particular federal district. 


Evidence and Procedure: The collection and presentation of digital evidence are governed by many intricate federal rules and constitutional standards. Skilled cybercrime defense lawyers know precisely how to challenge the admissibility or interpretation of electronic evidence.  


Sentencing Guidelines: Federal sentencing guidelines for cybercrimes are complex and require the balancing of several diverse factors, including the defendant’s criminal history, the specific fact pattern involved in the crime, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Understanding these guidelines is crucial for effective plea negotiations or sentencing arguments. 


Read More > Defending Federal Cybercrime Charges 


Charged with a Federal Cybercrime? 


If you or someone you love has been charged with a Federal cybercrime, don’t worry. We are on your side. Call Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law at 813-280-1244 today for a case review. We are ready to help mitigate the charges you face. 


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