6 Common Computer Crimes and the Penalties They Carry

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Aug 24

Lewis & Laws

6 Common Computer Crimes and the Penalties They Carry

by Lewis & Laws

How being ignorant on the Internet could land you behind bars.

The Internet has become its own world in which people work, play and everything in between, and like the world we live in, it too has a dark side. Every year billions of dollars are made from computer crimes, also referred to as cyber crimes, and the victims are usually ordinary, average people like you and me.

When it comes to crimes committed on the Internet, only a small number of offenses make the news headlines. We all recognize now that hacking into your girlfriend’s email account without her consent is illegal, but what else is going on in the World Wide Web that's getting people thrown behind bars?

Believe it or not, quite a bit.

People worldwide use the Internet to commit a multitude of crimes, some of them the public doesn't even realize can be performed electronically. So, before you start planning the next great cyber heist, take a gander at these 6 common Internet crimes and the penalties they carry. 


Crime - Phishing is an e-mail fraud scheme in which the offender sends out legitimate-looking email in an attempt to gather personal and financial information from its recipients. The “phishers” then take that information and use it for criminal purposes, such as identity theft and fraud.

Penalty - Because phishers use fraudulent or false statements to deceive people into revealing valuable data, phishing schemes may violate a number of federal criminal statutes which carry substantial penalties. Sentences can range as high as 30 years imprisonment under the wire fraud and bank fraud statutes, 15 years imprisonment for identity theft and credit-card fraud, and 5 years imprisonment under the CAN-SPAM Act. In addition, federal judges can impose substantial fines, which can be as high as $250,000 for an individual, and require forfeiture of a defendant's property.

In the state of Washington businesses affected by such fraud can bring a civil action in Superior Court to seek up to $5,000 or actual damages. An individual may recover up to $500 or actual damages, whichever is greater. Courts may increase the damages up to three times for repeat offenders.

Unlawful Access to Stored Communications

Crime - Intentionally accessing, without authorization, a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided.

Penalty - Hacking into a person’s email account for the purposes of commercial advantage, malicious destruction or damage, or private commercial gain or in furtherance of any crime carries a fine or a maximum five year sentence or both for first-time offenders. Hacking into a person’s email account in all other cases comes with a fine or a maximum one year sentence or both.

In Washington State, computer trespass in the second degree is a gross misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $5,000, up to a year in jail, or both.

Sports Betting

Crime - Engaging in the business of betting or wagering on any sporting event or contest over the Internet.

Penalty - Using the Internet for betting on sports is a federal crime punishable up to two years in prison. In Washington State, online sports betting is considered a class C felony and  carries a maximum penalty of confinement in a state correctional institution for five years, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of ten thousand dollars, or by both such confinement and fine.


Crime – Use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group, or an organization and may include false accusations, defamation, slander and libel. It may also include monitoring, identity theft, threats, vandalism, solicitation for sex, or gathering information that may be used to threaten or harass.

Penalty – Cyberstalking under federal law is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, to transmit any communication in interstate or foreign commerce containing a threat to injure the person or another.

Under Washington State law are usually considered gross misdemeanors, which carry a fine of up to $5,000, up to a year in jail, or both. But this crime will be punished as a class C felony when the behavior:

  • occurs in violation of a no-contact or no-harassment order and the bully has been convicted of previously harassing the victim or someone in the victim’s family, or
  • involves a threat to kill the victim or someone else.

Penalties for a class C felony include a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both.

Child Pornography

Crime – Possessing, receiving or transmitting child pornography via the Internet.

Penalty – Under federal law, transmitting child pornography for a first time offender convicted of transporting child pornography in interstate or foreign commerce, faces fines and a statutory minimum of 5 years to 20 years maximum in prison.

Under Washington State law, it is a class B felony, which carries a penalty of confinement in a state correctional institution for a term of ten years, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of twenty thousand dollars, or by both such confinement and fine. For the purposes of determining the unit of prosecution under this subsection, each depiction or image of visual or printed matter constitutes a separate offense.

Drug Trafficking

Crime – The buying or selling of a controlled substance by means of the Internet.

Penalty – Federal drug trafficking convictions, even for first time offenders carries a penalty of not less than 5 years and not more than 40 years and if death or serious bodily injury occurs, not less than 20 years or more than life depending on the type of drug and the amount. Fines of not more than $5 million if an individual and $25 million if not an individual for drug trafficking.

Under Washington State law drug trafficking is a class B felony and carries a penalty of imprisonment for not more than ten years, or fined not more than twenty-five thousand dollars if the crime involved less than two kilograms of a Schedule I, II, lV narcotic or amphetamine, or both such imprisonment and fine; or if the crime involved two or more kilograms of the drug, then fined not more than one hundred thousand dollars for the first two kilograms and not more than fifty dollars for each gram in excess of two kilograms, or both such imprisonment and fine. 

If You’ve Been Arrested for a Cybercrime in Seattle, Contact the Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers at Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws

The expert defense team at Baker, Lewis, Schwisow & Laws, PLLC vigorously defend the rights of individuals facing a multitude of charges in Seattle, Bellevue, and Kirkland. Contact us today at 206.209.0608 or fill out our online contact form to get more information or to get a free case review!

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