White collar crime is a broad term that covers many different areas, and its possible many people commit these sorts of crimes without knowing how serious they are. When most of us think hear “white collar crime,” the phrase calls to mind CEOs and investment bankers. But in reality, these types of crimes can be committed by anyone – from politicians to small business owners.
Generally speaking, white collar crimes are non-violent crimes committed solely for financial gain. Usually the perpetrator is taking advantage of their occupation’s elevated status – something that allowed them privileged access to information or resources.
One of the most common places that incidents of these crimes occur is on the internet. In fact, most internet crimes are white collar by definition, since they do not involve violence and tend to be financially motivated. Additionally, the fact that we turn to computers and the internet for everything these days has meant that crimes that were previously committed away from a computer (such as insider trading and fraud) now happen largely on the internet – at least in part. Any crime committed on the internet is referred to as a cyber crime.
White collar, internet-related crime may seem more innocent than something like assault, since these type of crimes are non-violent and do not occur on the street. Law enforcement treats Internet crime the same way they treat any other crime, however – with steep fines and possible incarceration.
Many white collar crimes occur on the internet every day. Here are some examples you may not be aware are illegal under state and federal laws:
Computer Intrusion (Hacking). Hacking is a broad term applied to a number of different internet crimes, but it this instance, the act of hacking means simply accessing a computer, network, or computer system or parts thereof without proper authorization. Usually, hackers attempt to access private information (like financial documents, account information, passwords, or identity-related information) for the purpose of theft, but this is not always the case.
Because of the broad definition of hacking, it is easy to accuse those who have made a simple mistake of this cyber crime. For example, IT professionals who are unaware they are accessing privileged information, or an individual accessing their spouse’s email account could both technically be accused of hacking. If there is a transfer of data in between states – and there almost always is on the internet—hacking becomes a federal crime with more severe punishments. Furthermore, federal penalties are often increased by the number of individuals affected by the crime. On the internet, this number can be enormous.
Computer/Internet Fraud. Another broad term, internet fraud occurs when an individual intercepts a transmission or hacks into a computer in order to gain access to personal information. Common targets are credit card information, information regarding identity (such as Social Security numbers), and bank account information.
Like hacking, it is possible to be accused of this type of fraud without being aware you are committing a crime. Small businesses owners may be accused of fraudulent mass marketing or product misrepresentation. Online auction fraud is also a crime an individual may commit unknowingly, or be unaware of the severe consequences.
Wire Fraud. Fraud earns a special classification if it takes place via email, text messaging, fax, USPS, or telephone. This charge involves interstate communication, and is considered an attempt to illegally take property from an institution or individual.
Copyright Piracy. Probably the most common crime committed by laypeople on the internet, piracy is a federal crime that involves distribution or sharing copyrighted material over peer-to-peer internet networks. Examples of these networks include file sharing and torrent sites. Anti-piracy laws focus on “intellectual property,” which can include everything from trade secrets and proprietary products and parts to movies and music and software.
While piracy is a widespread issue with millions of offenders worldwide, law enforcement faces pressure from media companies to crack down on piracy offenders. Those who distribute intellectual property (i.e. the uploader) are more likely to be targeted than those who simply download illegally. Many individuals have been targeted in recent years by law enforcement officials seeking to “make an example” of them.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of computer and internet-related crime. The laws regarding internet crime are very broad, far-reaching, constantly changing, and often difficult to understand. To worsen matters, law enforcement often lags behind the technological world, and prosecutors may seek harsher charges and punishments for crimes they don’t quite understand.
Furthermore, investigations of white collar crimes frequently occur over long periods of time. In other words, you can be under investigation for months – or sometimes even years – without your knowledge. If you have been accused of an internet crime, or you believe you might be under investigation, it is imperative that you contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to advise you on the best course of action.