Cybercrime is a crime that is gaining traction in the digital age, with a hack occurring approximately every 32 seconds. Because of this, cyber defense budgets have skyrocketed over the past five years, expected to reach 133.7 billion dollars by the end of 2022. These statistics leave many wondering: what is cybercrime, and how has it gained such relevancy? In this blog, we discuss what cybercrime is, the different types of cybercrime in the state of California, and the different consequences and classifications of each charge.
What is cybercrime?
Cybercrime is any crime that is committed in the virtual world using a computer or a network connection of any kind. It may seem that there is a limit to the extent of damage that can be done through just a single computer, but these types of crimes can be global in reach and completely devastating to their victims. As the world entered the era of digitization and cloud-based data management, the rates of crime continued to skyrocket — prompting the FBI and other formal governmental agencies to form divisions specifically designed to address the onslaught of complaints. California is a state with one of the highest occurrence rates of cybercrime, reporting a loss of 621.4 million dollars in 2021 alone, according to Statista.
Different types of criminal cybercrime
There are many different types of criminal cybercrime, many of which are on the rise as hacks and criminals become more sophisticated. Below are just a few examples of the different and most prevalent types of cybercrime:
1. Identity theft
Identity theft can be completely devastating and disrupt someone’s life as the criminal steals their personal information to impersonate them, use the resources tied to their accounts or ID numbers, and otherwise disrupt their lives. Identity theft is not a new issue, with many instances starting in the 1960s due to the implementation of additional social security benefits and other forms of credits or payments at department stores. Criminals would take this identifying information and claim the benefits as their own, limiting the options for recourse or additional recuperations of the funds.
There are different types of ramifications of identity theft, dependent upon the extent of the crime. Misdemeanor identity theft has a lower consequential implication, with many cases resulting in a year in county jail with additional fines. Felony identity theft can result in up to 3 years in prison with over 5,000 dollars in fines, according to California Criminal Defender. Identity theft is not only the usual charge in cases that are complex or prolonged, and may be charged alongside other offenses.
Many movies and TV shows have been created around the phenomenon of cyberstalking, especially shocking viewers that they could somehow be traced or tracked by breadcrumbs of a presence left in online chat rooms and forum sites…even just by their IP alone. Cyberstalking is an unfortunate reality in which a criminal finds and stalks a victim, at times unknowingly, and has the opportunity to cause further damage in their real lives. Often, this crime is made more nuanced by underlying mental health issues or motives that can worsen the offense. While the offense was introduced in the state of California as of 1998, the penal code was recently amended in 2020 to account for threats and stalking behavior made possible by the use of a communication device, such as a smartphone or tablet.
According to justice.gov, 1 in 4 victims of stalking have reported being cyber stalked through any form of electronic means, making this a potentially devastating crime that can go undetected thanks to the anonymity of the internet. If a defendant is charged with misdemeanor cyberstalking, the regular consequences of a 1,000 dollar fine and a year in prison may apply, as well as subsequent database registration, counseling, and mandated mental health services. Felony cyberstalking is far more high-stakes, often coming in at additional fines and fees as well as a 5-year stay in jail.
3. Phishing scams
Phishing is online fraud, and is often done in the forms of fake emails or other methods that can appear to be “helping” you. For example, phishers may copy an email template that you would receive from your bank, letting you know that you’ve been locked out of your account. They would then ask for sensitive information to unlock it for you and to verify your identity. Alternatively, there are other forms of phishing that take place on social media, with viral images appearing to be “games” asking for sensitive information that you may include in your secret questions to recover your password. Examples include what your dog’s name is, the street you grew up on, and other such questions.
Phishing is growing more sophisticated and harder to spot, leading many more to fall for schemes that they otherwise wouldn’t have. There are many different facets of the phishing laws in California that can result in subsequent charges depending on the nature of the crime, many of which may result in fines, jailtime, or probation if the charges are upheld.