Internet & Computer Crimes:

Common Threats, Fraud Laws & Protection

Learn about cybercrime from experienced attorneys.

Defining cybercrime

Cybercrime, otherwise known as computer crime, refers to criminal activity that uses or targets a computer or a computer network to further illegal ends. Digital computers and the internet may be used to perform conventional types of criminal activity, such as fraud, identity theft, privacy violation, or child pornography trafficking. In addition, individuals and organizations may also engage in completely novel criminal behavior, such as using ransomware, cryptojacking, and malicious domains.

The importance and threat of cybercrime have grown substantially in recent decades, as the digital computer and the internet have become crucial for entertainment, government, and commerce. To combat the constantly evolving internet and computer crimes, police and governments need to keep pace with the emerging technologies.

In terms of jurisdiction, both the federal and state governments can prosecute computer crimes due to their internet component. Many states, including California, enacted internet fraud laws that aim to protect the computers and networks of individuals, organizations, and businesses.

Who are the primary perpetrators of computer crime?

Cybercrime is committed by individuals and organizations. Some cyber criminals are lone wolves and in it for the money, while some may be part of a sophisticated internet crimes group. Novice hackers are also aplenty, striving to learn advanced techniques and use their technical skills to perform malicious and exploitative activities.

Some common cybercrime attacker profiles include:

An identity thief is a type of cyber criminal who strives to gain access to personal information and use it to make financial transactions using their victim’s identity. Identity thieves use basic and advanced hacking techniques to uncover their victims’ names, phone numbers, bank accounts, social security numbers, and credit card information.

Hacktivists may be groups or individuals engaging in cybercrime not for the money, but for a particular agenda. They may strive to embarrass individuals or organizations, generate publicity, or promote social change. Examples of hacktivism may include exposing embarrassing emails and interrupting social media posts.

Internet stalkers are somewhat similar to hacktivists, in that they use malware and social networking platforms to track a victim’s activity and acquire their  personal information. However, this type of computer crime is typically done with the aim of slander and/or bribery, although financial gain may not be the goal of all internet stalkers.

Phishing scammers or phishers are internet criminals who use phishing websites and techniques to acquire sensitive personal information and use it to conduct identity fraud scams or sell it on the dark web. Phishing websites typically mimic websites of businesses or governments to trick users into providing sensitive information.

Cyber terrorism refers to well-developed and politically motivated cyber attacks that aim to steal government or corporate data or corrupt their computers and networks. While many fear cyber terrorism, the threat luckily remains low, thanks to the fact that very few groups have the money, infrastructure, and skills needed for successful attacks.

Internet crimes: group or individual?

Organized cybercrime


A relatively small percentage of cybercrime is committed by criminal organizations.

Disorganized cybercrime


The bulk of computer crimes are performed by opportunistic individuals or small groups.

What are the different types of cybercrime?


Cryptojacking is a malicious cryptomining activity that involves hacking into personal or business computers to install software and steal cryptocurrency. Cryptojacking malware also tends to lead to significant website slowdowns and crashes.


Ransomware is a type of malicious software, i.e. malware that prevents the victim from accessing their computer files or networks and demands a ransom. Ransomware encrypts the victim’s files and makes them inaccessible until payment is made.

Business email compromise

Business email compromise or BEC scams are sophisticated scams that use email fraud to target businesses and individuals transferring funds. BCE scams are some of the most financially damaging, with thousands of dollars sent to criminals in some cases.

Phishing and spoofing

Spoofing and phishing are criminal activities that extort sensitive information via scam emails, malicious websites, and impersonating organizations or individuals. Phishing and spoofing activities account for more than 80% of reported cybersecurity incidents.


This type of cybercrime involves attacking or threatening of an attack and demanding money or other response to stop or remediate the attack. These cyber attacks tend to spread easily, forming webs of infected computers and networks.

Identity fraud

Internet identity fraud involves stealing sensitive personal information such as your social security or credit card number, and using it to commit fraud or theft. Once they access your personal information, thieves may also choose to sell it on the dark web.

Piracy and file sharing

Piracy, that is the illegal duplication of materials protected by copyright, has always been a problem. Yet, the ease of sharing pirated files over the Internet has made this type of cybercrime one of the most widespread and costly.

Child pornography

Child pornography is estimated to be a $3-billion-a-year industry, with over 10,000 Internet locations providing access to such materials. In addition, the Internet gives pedophiles plenty of opportunities to find and lure victims.

Wire fraud

Wire fraud represents a widespread criminal activity that uses the Internet or another form of telecommunications to commit fraud. If wire fraud crosses interstate or international borders, it’s considered a federal crime.

Internet fraud laws

Numerous federal and state laws are in place to protect individuals and businesses from computer and internet crimes.

Federal law

Under federal law, computer crimes were prosecuted as wire and mail fraud until 1986, when the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was enacted as an amendment to the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. The CFAA prohibits computer fraud, malicious code distribution, computer espionage, password trafficking, computer trespassing, and other similar crimes.

Under the CFAA, first-time cybercrime offenses involving using a protected computer without authorization are punishable by fines and up to 5 years in prison, with 10 years for repeat offenses. Other violations of the CFAA can be punishable up to 20 years and even imprisonment for life depending on the offense.

State laws

Computer crime and internet fraud laws vary from state to state. In California, email and internet fraud are covered under the Business & Professions Code § 22948, which is the anti-phishing law, and the Penal Code §§ 484 for credit card fraud, 502 for unauthorized use of a computer, and 530.5 for internet identity theft.

The penalties also vary depending on the specific offense, with 16 months to 3 years in prison, and up to $10,000 for felonies, and up to a year in county jail and fines up to $5,000 for misdemeanor offenses.

How to protect yourself from cybercrime?

As an individual or a business owner, you can employ several different methods to protect yourself from computer crimes. Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do.


  • Keep your operating systems and software updated. 
  • Install virus and malware software. 
  • Use long, complex, and unique passwords. 
  • Enable multi-factor authentication. 
  • Back up your data and encrypt it.  
  • Use public Wi-Fi carefully. 
  • Create a custom cybersecurity plan for your business.


  • Use the same passwords for multiple accounts. 
  • Share passwords with anybody you don’t know or don’t trust. 
  • Give out your information via unencrypted sites (encrypted sites are those starting with “https”). 
  • Provide your personal information in response to a pop-up, email, or a website linked from a web page or email. 
  • Leave your computer on all the time to protect yourself from spyware and other attacks.

Naturally, there are many other ways to stay safe online, including specialized cybersecurity solutions, private web browsers, and more. Overall, individuals and companies should strive to be informed, cautious, and proactive when protecting themselves from computer crimes.

What to do if you are a victim of internet crime?

The following are some recommended steps to take if you happen to be the victim of some specific cybercrimes:

  • If the case of online stalking

    • If you know the offender, you can send them a written warning to say that the contact is unwanted and that the communication should cease. 
    • Make sure to document each contact and save copies of the received communication from the stalker. This may involve threatening messages and emails and their dates, times, and any specific details. 
    • File a complaint with the Internet Service Provider (ISP), both yours and the stalkers, as many ISPs provide tools that help block contact with a specific person. 
    • Set up appropriate privacy and security settings on your social networking profiles and other services you may use.
    • Consider changing your ISP and internet address and use privacy protection programs or encryption software on all your devices.

  • In the case of identity theft

    • Change the passwords for all your accounts and make sure that the new passwords are unique, long, and strong, mixing lowercase and uppercase letters, symbols, and numbers. 
    • Close any compromised or unauthorized charge or credit accounts and inform the relevant companies that someone might be using your identity. You can also find out if any unauthorized transactions have been made. 
    • Consider any additional personal information that might be at risk. You might have to contact different agencies depending on the type of theft. 
    • File a report to the law enforcement agency in your area and provide a copy of the report to your creditors, banks, credit bureaus, and other businesses.  
    • If your information has been stolen in a corporate data breach, you may get additional instructions from the agency or business whose data has been compromised. 
    • If the theft involves stolen money or identity, you can contact one of the 3 credit bureaus and report it: 
      • Experian: 1-888-397-374
      • Equifax: 1-800- 525-6285
      • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

    The credit bureau can set up a fraud alert on your credit report to help prevent any further malicious activity from happening.

  • In the case of Social Security fraud

    If you were the victim of Social Security fraud, i.e. you believe someone may be using your social security number to fraudulently receive benefits or employment, make sure to reach out to the fraud hotline of the Social Security Administration at 1-800-269-0271. You can verify the accuracy of your social security statement by requesting a copy, as well as get any additional information you may need.

Crypto-crime Infographic

Who should I call?

If you believe that your someone you know is a victim of a cybercrime, you can contact:

Law enforcement officials and partners can also make use of INTERPOL’s Cybercrime Collaboration Services to obtain and exchange information. Finally, individuals in need of criminal defense services can hire an experienced computer crime lawyer. At Monder Law Group, we understand the ever-shifting nature of cybercrime and work with skilled defense attorneys who can help you across San Diego, California.

Stay informed with our computer & internet crimes defense attorney group

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Frequently asked questions

  • What are the 3 categories of cybercrime?

    Computer crimes tend to fall into one of the following three categories: 

    • Individual cybercrime involves a single individual who acquires and distributes illegal information via the internet. Some examples include trafficking and cyberstalking. 
    • Property computer crimes refer to instances where criminals illegally acquire a person’s credit card or bank information to gain access to their funds or perform a phishing scam.
    • Government cyber crimes tend to be the least common, yet the most serious out of all computer crimes. They may include hacking military or government websites and distributing propaganda.
  • What is the most common cybercrime?

    As reported to the U.S. Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the most common type of computer crime in 2020 was phishing, with approximately 240,000 reports. Non-payment/non-delivery fraud took second place, with about 108,000 complaints, while cyberextortion was third, with close to 77,000 complaints. In addition, more than 45,000 cases of personal data breaches and 43,000 cases of internet identity theft were reported to the IC3 in 2020.

  • Why is it important to prevent cybercrime?

    Malicious cyber activity poses a serious threat to public safety and economic security, both in the U.S. and globally. This is why the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), INTERPOL, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Defense (DOD), National Security Agency (NSA), and other government and international agencies employ advanced strategies to impose consequences on cyber criminals, change their behaviors, and reduce risk to individuals, organizations, and critical infrastructure.

  • How much does cybercrime cost the economy?

    A report conducted by McAfee Corp. and the Center for Strategic and International Studies reveals that computer crimes today cost the world economy more than 1% of global GDP, i.e. more than $1 trillion.

    This is more than half the number reported in a 2018 study that estimated that global economic losses caused by cybercrime were approximately $600 billion. In the United States, malicious cyber activity is estimated to have cost the economy between $57 and $109 in 2016.

  • What happens if you commit a cybercrime?

    Many individuals are unaware of the serious consequences of committing internet and computer crimes and the frequency of such lawsuits. For instance, there was a case of a student being ordered to pay as much as $105,000 for defaming a certain school teacher on Twitter and Facebook. To prevent such situations from happening, it is crucial that everyone is informed on the types of online conduct that might be considered criminal and how they can avoid them. 

    If you happen to be accused of committing an unintentional cybercrime, your best option would be to remove any offending messages or posts, apologize for them, and hope that the targeted individual doesn’t take legal action. In the case that they choose to take legal action, you should seek professional advice from a knowledgeable and well-respected computer crime lawyer in your area.

  • What are the penalties for computer crime?

    The punishment for computer criminal cases tends to depend on a number of factors, including the kind and severity of the cybercrime, the jurisdiction, the defendant’s prior criminal record, and the value of any property losses suffered. Federal and state sentences for computer crimes may also vary.

    Those convicted of internet fraud or similar computer crimes under federal wire fraud laws may be sentenced up to 20 years, fined, or both. In the state of California, on the other hand, penalties for different types of cybercrime can result in imprisonment in a state prison or county jail for up to 3 years, fines up to $10,000, or both. Alternate forms of sentencing are also possible. 

    Under such circumstances, it’s advisable to contact a computer crime lawyer for a consultation in San Diego to discuss the best course of action and protect your interests.

  • How can I find a good computer crime lawyer?

    Ransomware. Malicious domains. Cryptojacking. Botnets. Hacktivists. Cybercrime is versatile and quickly evolving, and so is computer crime criminal defense. If you are looking for cybercrime attorneys experienced in dealing with computer criminal cases and knowledgeable in state and federal internet fraud laws, Monder Law Group is a well-established internet crimes attorney group located in San Diego, California. Schedule a free consultation today and allow us to employ time-tested strategies to help you ensure a good outcome in your case.

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      You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.