eCrime, also known as Internet fraud or cyber crime, usually involves deceiving another person through the Internet for financial gain and will often result not only in charges for the underlying crime—theft or extortion for example—but in additional charges under California statute specifically criminalizing these acts when they are committed electronically. As a Garden Grove internet crime lawyer, I understand the nuances of these cases.

eCrime does not refer to a specific crime but rather to the method by which some type of fraud or other crime is committed. Both the California and Federal authorities have set up special units dedicated to the identification and prosecution of these crimes. Unlike many other crimes, someone who commits fraud over the Internet could find that he or she is prosecuted by both the state and federal governments as very often eCrimes are perpetrated not only against residents of California, but across state lines.

Along with the rise in "cyber" crime, law enforcement officials have become increasingly reliant on technology to help them capture and prosecute these offenses. The FBI, along with law enforcement in Orange County, California, has opened the Orange County Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory in the city of Orange.

California state Attorney General Kamala D. Harris created the state's first eCrime unit, which focuses on detection, arrest and prosecution of people involved in identity theft, internet fraud, computer and electronic theft, intellectual and property crimes and child exploitation in its many forms.

Examples of eCrimes include:

  • Identity and/or data theft
  • Credit card fraud
  • Scams that require some kind of investment or payment with no actual return or benefit

Other crimes committed over the Internet, which are not prosecuted as a separate crime but are discussed below include:

  • Buying, selling, or exchanging child pornography
  • Internet harassment/stalking
  • Criminal threats made over the Internet

For those whose online activities have brought them to the attention of the authorities, representation by an experienced Garden Grove internet crime attorney is vital to obtaining the best outcome. My office has access to the right resources to determine your liability should you be accused of committing a crime using the Internet and I will diligently act to defend your rights under the law. Many crimes committed using the Internet carry jail or prison sentences. I will make every effort to defeat the charge but if you are convicted, I am often able to argue for a term of probation instead of actual imprisonment.

Contact me at any time to set up a confidential consultation with an internet crime attorney in Garden Grove without charge. I will work with you and your family to provide a fee structure that best suits your circumstances.

Identity and Data Theft (Penal Code section 530.5)

Whether someone is accused of stealing someone's identity or personal data through the Internet or via the old fashioned way, the charges and potential punishments are the same. Under Penal Code section 530.5, it is unlawful to obtain and use for an unlawful purpose any personal identifying information. This type of information includes:

  • name, address, telephone number;
  • date of birth;
  • identification numbers (such as health insurance number, social security number, passport number, etc.);
  • bank account or credit card numbers, pins, or passwords; and
  • birth or death certificate information.

The above list does not include all the possible personal data under this law; all that is required is that the data, if personal and unique, is used for an unlawful purpose. An "unlawful purpose" includes obtaining, or attempting to obtain, something of value. Even obtaining this information from someone else without being the person who actually stole it, is a crime under this law if the prosecution alleges that the information was obtained for an unlawful purpose. An example of this type of theft would be obtaining someone's social security number and/or other personal information in order to steal that person's income tax refund.

This crime is a "wobbler," meaning it can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony depending upon the circumstances of the crime and the criminal background of the offender. A misdemeanor conviction under this statute could result in up to one year in jail and/or probation, fines and possible restitution to the victim. A conviction of felony violation of this statute provides for a sentence of one year, sixteen months, two, or three years imprisonment in state prison.

Accessing or Using a Computer or Network without Permission (Penal Code section 502)

Under the larceny laws of California, Penal Code section 502 makes it a crime to knowingly access a computer, computer system, or network whether that access is physical or remote in order to obtain, alter, destroy, or otherwise use data on that computer without permission. This section makes many different acts a crime including what is commonly called "hacking." It also makes it a crime separate and apart from other criminal acts intended or committed by the access.

Under this section, even giving someone access to a computer, computer system, or network without permission is a crime. Say an employee of a company gives another person a password that allows that person to access the company network and gain something from the company that is only permitted to employees, not only is the person who accessed the network guilty of a crime under this section but so is the employee who gave the unauthorized person the password.

Depending on the act committed under this section, the charge may be a felony or a misdemeanor and even a first offense can land the offender in jail. If charged as a misdemeanor the punishment may include up to one year in jail and/or probation and/or fines. If charged as a felony, the penalty a fine and/or imprisonment for sixteen months or two or three years.

If the act charged under this section was done with the intention to commit or with the actual commission of an underlying crime, the underlying criminal act will be charged in addition to the charge pursuant to this section. Thus, for example, if someone used the internet to steal proprietary information for financial gain from a company network, the offender could and probably would be charged under this section AND charged with theft.

Credit Card Fraud (Penal Code Section 484e)

Also included under the larceny laws of California is Penal Code section 484e, which makes it a crime to obtain, without consent, someone else's "access card" for the purpose or with the intent to gain some value from the card. In most cases such an act is grand theft under this statute. An "access card" can be a credit card, debit card or any other card that can be used to obtain money, goods, services, or any other thing of value. It is not required to actually obtain the physical card, only the card number or any other feature of the card that gives access to the card's value.

This section makes it a crime not only to actually use the access card to gain something of value but to have the intent to do so without ever actually using the card. It also makes it a crime to sell or transfer the access card.

When convicted under this statute as grand theft, it is a "wobbler" and may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor conviction under this statute could result in up to one year in jail and/or probation, fines and possible restitution to the victim. A conviction of felony violation of this statute provides for a sentence of one year, sixteen months, two, or three years imprisonment in state prison. Under certain circumstances, this type of fraud may be prosecuted as petty theft, which is a misdemeanor carrying up to six months in county jail and/or probation and fines.


An Internet scam is really nothing more than fraud committed over the Internet. Offering a product or service for purchase over the Internet and then not providing that product or service after the purchase is made or sending an email under false pretenses which is designed to obtain personal data are just two examples of Internet scams. Often these crimes are prosecuted under the Penal Code sections described above. But because Internet scams usually cross state lines, it is common for the federal authorities to prosecute these acts under the "wire fraud" statute of the United State Code section 1343. Under this statute, it is illegal to commit fraud by "wire." The penalties under the wire fraud act are severe with the federal guidelines allowing a sentence of up to twenty years in the federal penitentiary!

Child Pornography Over the Internet (Penal Code Section 311)

Whether someone possesses, creates, or distributes pornography depicting a child under the age of 18 on a computer, over the internet or otherwise, the crime is prosecuted under Penal Code section 311. This crime can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony. Even if prosecuted as a misdemeanor it is a very serious charge in California and if convicted the offender will be required to register as sex offender for the rest of his or her life. Registration as a sex offender is a life-long punishment that affects the registrant in every state of the union.

A misdemeanor conviction under this section carries a sentence of up to one year in jail and/or fines. A felony conviction can result in imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or six years, and/or fines. The fines under this statute are among the highest in the California Penal Code and can be up to $100,000. Consult an internet crime lawyer in Garden Grove for assistance in fighting your charges.

Internet Harassment, Stalking, and Criminal Threats

Stalking on the Internet, for example, repeatedly sending threatening emails to someone, can be charged under the stalking laws. There are many ways in which someone can stalk another in a way that makes it a crime under California law. For further discussion on the California law on stalking, see the "Stalking" section on this website.

Closely related to stalking, is harassment. Unlike stalking however, harassment is usually a civil matter that is filed in civil or family court by the person being harassed. Civil harassment, including harassment over the Internet, usually results in a restraining order against the activity and if it continues despite the order, can result in criminal charges. Examples of Internet harassment might be repeatedly sending instant messages to someone in a way meant to harass that person or repeatedly posting nasty comments on someone's Facebook wall.

If the harassment is threatening or causes the person harassed to be in fear of his or her safety, it is likely that criminal charges alleging stalking or criminal threats will be filed by the district attorney. Both the "Criminal Threats" and "Stalking" sections of the California Penal Code specifically include acts carried out electronically. Both of these crimes can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending upon the circumstances. For further information, see the sections specific to these crimes on this website.

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