The far-reaching nature of the Internet often poses a challenge for prosecutors and investigators who are tasked with handling cases of Internet fraud. Victims of online fraud are often scattered across Florida and the rest of the country; therefore, gathering witnesses and assessing the full extent of the victims’ losses can be a challenge. Related charges are often very steep. If you’ve been charged with this type of federal fraud crime, count on the Tampa Internet fraud attorneys at Joffe Law, P.A. to help you mount a powerful defense.
Internet scams often involve:
- fraudulent sales transactions
- non-delivery of merchandise
- advance fee fraud
- sweepstakes or lottery winnings fraud
- work-at-home scams
Do not say anything that might incriminate you. Speak with an attorney first.
Federal Internet fraud
In 1986, Congress passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as part of an effort to keep up with the growing body of computer-related crimes as digital technology expanded rapidly and became more widely used. The 1986 legislation prohibited:
- accessing a computer without authorization and obtaining information that is protected by the federal government for national security purposes
- accessing a computer belonging to a U.S. government agency without authorization or obtaining unauthorized protected information from a federal agency
- accessing a computer to retrieve information from a financial record, financial institution, or information contained within a consumer reporting agency’s files
- intentionally accessing a computer that belongs to a government agency or department that is not intended for public use and is exclusively used by the government
- knowingly, and with the intent of committing fraud, accessing a computer without authorization to further a fraudulent scheme and/or to obtain something of value
- transferring a program, code, command, or information in the interest of causing damage or harm to a protected computer
- knowingly trafficking passwords or information to make it possible to access a government computer with the intent to defraud.
- knowingly, and with intent to defraud, trafficking passwords or information to access a non-government computer in a manner that affects interstate commerce
- making threats to obtain protected information or to damage a computer in order to extort something of value in a manner that affects interstate commerce
The federal government will generally assume jurisdiction over investigating and prosecuting Internet fraud if the case involves government computers or interstate commerce. Other cases of Internet fraud are investigated by Tampa and Hillsborough County police and prosecuted in state courts. Internet fraud can happen in many different ways. Listed below are a few examples of common fraudulent schemes that are conducted through the Internet.
One of the most common types of Internet scams today involves what is known as “phishing.” This type of scam originated in the form of scammers attaching malicious files to emails and sending the emails to employees who worked for large companies. Nowadays, phishing scams can be conducted through messaging applications and over social media networks. For example, a scammer will email or message a potential victim and convince the recipient to click on a link that is designed to obtain log-in credentials or other sensitive data from the victim. Scammers often pretend to be representatives from major banks or payment services like Paypal or Square. The link in the fraudulent message will often download a virus onto the victim’s computer or redirect the victim to a log-in site that may look like the website for their banking institution or other financial service provider. Unbeknownst to the victim, the site is actually a fake page the scammer has set up to collect the victim’s log-in information.
Most people who are familiar with the Nigerian scam might think the scheme derived its name from the nationality of its most notorious perpetrators. Actually, the fraudulent practice is named after “Nigeria 419,” the section in Nigeria’s legal code that bans the practice. A person who wishes to execute a Nigerian 419 scam will contact a target, most often through email. In some cases, the scammer may also send a text message or social media direct message or even by contacting a potential victim through a dating website or application. The initial contact will typically make an emotional plea for help or promise a business owner or service provider an fee in excess of their normal pricing in exchange for depositing a large, fraudulent check and transferring funds. The victim is unaware that the check is counterfeit until he or she deposits the instrument and transfers funds to the scammer. The victim’s bank will then return the counterfeit check and still deduct the amount from the victim’s account, even causing the victim to have a negative balance if he or she does not have enough funds to cover the amount of the transfer to the scammer. People who post their information in classifieds are often targeted by Nigerian scammers.
Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies pursue and investigate Internet fraud aggressively to ensure they are ready to go to trial when the time comes. Depending on the extent of the crime, those who are convicted of running an Internet scam may be sentenced to more than $10,000 in fines and/or five years or more in prison. A judge may also require the person who is convicted of the scam to pay restitution to all identified victims. Though Internet fraud charges are very serious, people who are accused of it have rights and deserve to have their day in court. Choosing an experienced Tampa Internet fraud attorney is the first step to building a strong defense against state and possibly federal prosecutors.