5 Types of Federal Computer Crimes

Hollywood movies often give the impression that a computer crime must always involve a “hacker” — a shadowy figure who works behind the scenes, breaking into government servers and stealing national secrets.

As with most things, the reality is quite a bit different. While there are certainly hackers who target governments, there are many different types of computer crimes and you don’t have to be a hacker to be charged with a computer-related offense. If you are charged with a computer-related crime, you should contact a skilled federal criminal defense attorney with experience handling these types of cases.   Here is just a small sampling of some of the more common federal computer crimes.  

Identity Theft

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), about 17.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2014. With the popularity of online shopping, and with a growing number of people conducting personal business online, it’s easier than ever before for cybercriminals to steal a person’s personal and financial information.

The BJS states that two-thirds of all identity theft victims suffer a financial loss as a result of the theft. Once an individual’s personal information is in the wrong hands, it can take years to fully recover. It can also be difficult for police and prosecutors to track down identity thieves, as they may be located overseas or part of a large criminal network that operates across multiple states or countries.

That is just one reason why identity theft prosecutions are often brought by federal authorities. Because federal prosecutors and investigators typically have more resources than those in individual states, they generally have a better chance of locating the source of the theft.

Phishing Scams

In a phishing scam, a cybercriminal sends a fake email that looks like it’s from a real, legitimate company. The email might contain a link for the recipient to log in and enter their password or other personal information. Once the cyber thief has this information, they can use it to get into other websites, where they can withdraw funds or make purchases using the victim’s resources.

Phishing scams can target everyday people, but they are often sent to businesses, where an unsuspecting employee might enter their information, giving the cybercriminal access to potentially thousands or even millions of dollars or accounts. According to an FBI report, just one phishing scam in 2017 netted cyber thieves $7 million.

Child Pornography

As the Department of Justice states, “Child pornography is a form of child sexual exploitation.” It’s illegal to use, receive, access, store, or distribute child pornography under both state and federal law. Furthermore, the consequences for even storing or viewing child pornography on a computer can be severe. In some cases, people view child pornography and think they can’t get caught because they don’t download or store the image. However, investigators can typically access the user’s history and find the images in the computer’s cached files.

Federal law prohibits creating, distributing, and possessing child pornography, if it was ever transmitted using interstate mail or wire facilities, which includes transmission over the Internet.  The Federal Sentencing Guidelines also call for severe punishment of child pornography crimes.


If you use email, chances are you receive spam on a regular basis. Most people think of spam as annoying and inconvenient, but they might not really consider it a crime. However, spam emails can contain malicious software designed to destroy computer systems, gain access to a company’s server, or even hold an entire network “hostage” until a business agrees to pay a ransom.

In one report from the Australian government, a sample of 13 million spam emails contained 100,000 malicious attachments, and 1.4 million had malicious web links. While the earliest types of email spam were often sent by pranksters who just wanted to create chaos, new forms of spam are often the work of criminal networks who use spam the way a burglar might use a crowbar to break into a house.  

Cyberstalking and Online Threats

Stalking is a serious crime that has been around for as long as humanity itself. However, computers and the Internet make it possible for stalkers to harass and terrify their victims constantly. Using social media and texts, a cyberstalker can make a victim feel unsafe anywhere. This can make it almost impossible for the victim to enjoy their social life or even hold down a job.

Prosecutors at both the state and federal level take online stalking, harassment, and threats seriously. Posting harassing statements or threats on social media has resulted in a growing number of people being convicted of felonies under federal computer crimes statutes.

Many states, including Texas, have also passed anti-cyberbullying laws that aim to deter students from using the Internet to harass, threaten, or bully individuals online. Individuals found guilty of violating the Texas cyberbullying law can face up to 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000. They may also be suspended from school or required to attend an alternative school.

If you have been charged with a federal computer crime, it is your best interest to contact skilled Federal Criminal Defense Attorney John Helms to discuss your legal options.


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Dallas Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer John Helms

(T): 214-666-8010