Today, the internet is ubiquitous. Nearly everyone has access to it all day, every day, and a majority of business, banking, and other personal activities are often conducted online. The tricky thing about internet crimes is that they frequently fall under both federal and state regulations. Subsequently, if you or a loved one has been accused of any type of internet crime, it's very important that you speak with an expert attorney who can help you navigate the judicial system. The complexity of internet crime cases does not have to discourage you—with the right attorney by your side, you can feel confident in your defense strategy.
What Are Internet Crimes?
New Jersey has its own unit that handles internet crimes: the Cyber Crimes Unit. Their mission is to “conduct and assist in investigations where computers, networks, telecommunication devices, and other technological instruments are the vehicle or target for the commission of criminal acts against network resources critical to the function of corporate or government entities.” The Cyber Crimes Unit is one of five units that comprise the New Jersey State Police High Tech Crime Bureau, which is “directly responsible for the effective and efficient performance of all investigative and analytical personnel and equipment used in the investigation and apprehension of individuals perpetrating criminal activity through the use of computers and other technology.”
As you can see, the definition of internet crimes is fairly broad. In order to help you develop a better understanding of what might fall under internet crimes, we'll explore some examples of categories below.
Frequently, internet crimes often fall under both state and federal jurisdiction. In the case of federal jurisdiction, the FBI and Department of Justice are most often involved. This is a result of the fact that most internet use crosses state lines, by virtue of locations of servers, if nothing else. Subsequently, it's important that your attorney understand both federal and state law when it comes to cybercrimes.
What Are Relevant Federal Regulations?
There are two main federal regulations that could impact cybercrimes in New Jersey. The first is the Comprehensive Crime Control Act and the Computer Fraud Abuse Act which amended the CCCA. The second is the Federal Wire Fraud Statute which is much older (1952!) and specifically applies to “interstate wire communications.” Although it was not originally directed toward the internet or fax, because of the language, it has a broad scope.
The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, codified as 18 US Code § 1030 was initially designed to protect “classified information, financial records, and credit information on governmental and financial institution computers” and was the first federal computer fraud law. However, in 1986, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) was introduced as an amendment and widens the scope. As technology changes, so too does the CFAA. There've been a total of five expansions to the scope of the law in 1994, 1996, 2001, 2002, and 2008.
Today prosecutors often use the CFAA within its widened scope.
Some common areas that often fall under the purview of cybercrimes include:
- Phishing schemes
- Identity theft
- Credit card fraud
- Child Pornography or Internet Sex Crimes
- Unauthorized computer use or access
- Cyber Terrorism
- Social Networking and Email account intrusions
Twenty-one years ago, in 2000, the FBI established the Internet Crime Complaint Center as a means of handling internet fraud, and individuals are encouraged to use it for reporting purposes. Subsequently, since its inception, there have been over 4 million complaints. In 2016 alone, nearly 300,000 complaints reported losses totaling over $1.3 billion.
A broad range of actions fall under the umbrella of identity theft.
The first is impersonating or assuming someone else's identity with the purpose of defrauding another person or benefiting yourself. Secondly, pretending to represent an organization or person with the intention of defrauding them or benefiting yourself is also identity theft. Finally, if someone obtains a person's identifying information in order to assume their identity with the intention of a) attaining a benefit or service; b) avoiding prosecution for a crime tied to their personal identity; or c) avoiding payment of a debt or legal obligation.
Identity theft may be coupled with other charges, due to its nature, and so it's critical that you find an attorney who can support you in addressing any and all charges.
Internet Sex Crimes
Internet sex crimes carry a stark stigma that can alienate you from your loved ones and impact child custody, professional licenses, and more. As a category, it's very broad and includes a variety of crimes. What often comes to mind when people think of internet sex crimes is one of two things: child pornography or solicitation.
Possessing, distributing, or creating child pornography is illegal, and according to the law, a minor is any individual under the age of 18. According to 18 US Code § 2256, child pornography includes “the visual depiction of a person under the age of 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct.” When pornographic images of a minor cross state lines, generally, the case defers to the federal courts.
Cases can be complex and involve a plethora of components—take the story of Sebastian Attar, from May 2021, who was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison. In 2017, federal agents began to investigate members of a private group chat named Taboo Train 2.0. In 2018, Attar's electronic devices and storage media were confiscated by federal law enforcement agents, who later discovered images on the devices. Attar was also indicted in Georgia for advertising child pornography. That indictment was transferred to New Jersey so that both charges were heard in the court there, where in 2019, Attar pled guilty to “two counts of sexual exploitation of children and one count of advertising child pornography.”
Another recent case in Burlington County demonstrates that civil authorities are continuing to take internet sex crimes very seriously—nine individuals were arrested, and over the course of the entire operation, 46 people were charged. A quick glance at the charges will demonstrate that in instances involving internet sex crimes, the charges very quickly add up. Nearly every one of the final 9 individuals arrested had three counts. The severity should make it incredibly clear that an experienced attorney is necessary to navigate the complexity of these cases.
Cyberbullying and Cyber Harassment
NJSA § 2C:33-4.1 establishes “cyber-harassment” as a standalone crime, apart from regular standard harassment. This legislation also covers cyberbullying. There are three instances that the statute describes, and all of them require “communication in an online capacity via any electronic device or through a social networking site and with the purpose to harass another.”
The three parameters are if the person:
- “threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to any person or the property of any person;
- knowingly sends, posts, comments, requests, suggests, or proposes any lewd, indecent, or obscene material to or about a person with the intent to emotionally harm a reasonable person or place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm to his person; or
- threatens to commit any crime against the person or the person's property.”
Cyber-harassment charges are a fourth-degree offense unless the person is over 21, in which case they become a third-degree offense.
What Are Potential Penalties?
The penalties associated with internet crimes depend on which degree the charge falls under. The lowest possible crime is a fourth-degree crime, which has up to 18 months of imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines. Third-degree crimes result in a sentence of 3-5 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. The jump from third-degree to second-degree is steep. A second-degree crime comes with 5-10 years imprisonment and up to $150,000 in fines. Finally, a first-degree crime carries between 10 and 20 years of imprisonment and a maximum of $200,000 in fines.
The sentencing will vary depending on whether or not the accused has any prior convictions, as well as the nature of the crime. For instance, if the amount involved in an identity theft case is under $500 and there is only one victim, and it is a first offense, then it is possible that the crime would be classified as a fourth-degree crime. However, if the amount stolen exceeds $75,000 and involves five or more victims, then the identity theft would be classified as a second-degree crime.
Contact the Best Internet Crime Defense Attorney Today
With so much at stake, it's critical that you have an attorney by your side who can strategize and craft an effective defense. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have many years of experience providing criminal defense for clients facing high-stakes electronic and internet investigations and prosecutions. Their dedication to their clients is visible in their never-ending pursuit of due process and the best possible outcome. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 or reach out through the online form for help.