Phishing involves using electronic means to send counterfeit communications to others. Typically, the communications seek an individual’s or company’s sensitive information to further some other scheme to defraud.
Because phishing is often facilitated by computers or the Internet, it is considered a cybercrime. Both state and federal governments have laws concerning the conduct involved in phishing. Anyone found guilty can face time in state or federal prison and/or a fine.
What Is a Cybercrime?
A cybercrime is unlawful activity committed through a computer or computer network. The offense may specifically target the computer, such as malware attacks that disable data and files. It can also be facilitated by a network, such as sending emails to unlawfully obtain personal details about another person.
Because phishing usually involves Internet-enabled scams, it falls under the cybercrimes umbrella.
What Is Phishing?
Phishing is a technique cybercriminals use to induce others to provide information they otherwise would not give out or would only give to trusted sources. These offenses relate to a practice called spoofing, where individuals or groups create communications or websites that appear legitimate. Often, they do so by changing a single letter or number, making it difficult for the receiver to immediately notice that something is off.
A phishing scheme could result in an individual:
- Downloading malware on their computer
- Sending money
- Giving up personal, financial, medical, and other information
Recently, many phishing schemes have developed in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals and groups have posed as licensed healthcare workers or have created websites designed to look like legitimate government or healthcare sites. The actors have offered a range of COVID-related services, such as testing appointments, home testing kits, and vaccination cards. They then use the information they receive for fraudulent billing or identity theft.
Traditionally, phishing was committed through email correspondence. And while many schemes are still carried out this way, individuals and groups are now using other forms of electronic communication.
- Over the phone,
- Through text messages, or
- Through social media
Does Florida Have a Phishing Law?
The Florida Communications Fraud Act (Florida Statutes § 817.034) is used to prosecute individuals alleged to have engaged in phishing, among other crimes. The Act targets individuals who have furthered a scheme to defraud using communications technology.
A scheme to defraud involves using misrepresentations, pretenses, or false promises to deprive a person of property – whether permanently or temporarily. Property can include tangible and intangible material.
Any person alleged to have violated this statute may be charged with communications fraud.
Does the Federal Government Have a Phishing Statute?
Unlike Florida, the federal government does not have a specific statute targeting phishing crimes. Still, that doesn’t mean these offenses cannot fall under federal jurisdiction.
Phishing schemes involve a range of conduct. As mentioned, they use deception to get a person to take some action that could have negative results. Often, they are designed to get personal or sensitive information from the receiver.
Because of the design and intent of phishing schemes, the acts can be prosecuted under several federal statutes.
A few examples include:
- Wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343): Using electronic communications to further a scheme to defraud.
- Identity fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1028): Without authority, transferring, producing, possessing, or using the identification documents of another person.
- Aggravated identity theft (18 U.S.C. § 1028A): Using someone else’s identifying information to facilitate a specified felony.
The violations a person may be charged with depend on the acts they were alleged to have committed.
What Are the Penalties for Phishing?
As noted, phishing is a serious crime, with penalties associated with the nature of the offense and the jurisdiction it falls under.
It is a misdemeanor when the value of the property involved is less than $300.
In this case, the potential penalties include:
- Up to 1 year in jail and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines
Phishing is a felony when the value of the property involved is $300 or more.
In this case, the potential penalties include:
- Up to 5 years in prison and/or
- Up to $500 in fines
For federal cases, the consequences of a phishing-related conviction can be much steeper.
Wire fraud, for example, is penalized by up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine. Identity fraud can lead to a maximum of 15 years of imprisonment and/or a fine. And aggravated identity theft results in 2 years tacked onto the prison term imposed for the underlying felony.
Call an Experienced Lawyer Today
Being accused of phishing, or a related offense, can be stressful but don’t lose hope in your case. You can fight state or federal criminal charges and seek a favorable outcome that could result in avoiding or minimizing penalties.
Our Miami team at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. stands prepared to defend you. We have nearly 50 years of collective experience, including time spent as former prosecutors, and can aggressively pursue the accusations against you.
To schedule an immediate consultation, please call us at (305) 330-1360 or contact us online today.