White-Collar Crime: Computer Fraud

By Kirk Anderson on December 13, 2016

In 1939, sociology Professor Edwin Sutherland coined the phrase “white-collar crime” and defined it as a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” Today, white-collar crime is a generic term for a dishonest business scheme, generally one that is nonviolent and committed for financial gain. Computer fraud is one such white-collar crime.

Using a computer to unlawfully take or alter electronic data, or to unlawfully gain access to a computer system or exceed authorized access, is fraud. Computer fraud can also include distributing hoax emails, spyware, malware, and viruses or worms with the intent to harm someone else’s computer.

In the United States, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act criminalized these acts under federal jurisdiction. It is an amendment to the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. If indeed found guilty of computer fraud, depending on the specific circumstances, the punishment can include a fine, imprisonment for up to twenty years, or both.

Though primarily a criminal law, an amendment in 1994 allowed civil action under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. When computer fraud involves civil liability though, cases can become complicated.

A Minnesota federal district court, involving Walsh Bishop Associates Inc. v. O’Brien, et al, reasoned that the CFAA statute poses no civil liability on individuals with actual authorization to access information, who then later allegedly use that same information improperly. The court referenced the fact that, in 1986, Congress amended the original statute to remove “use” as a basis for exceeding authorization. This could mean that employers cannot rely on using the CFAA in a claim against former employees and will have to seek other avenues when bringing a lawsuit.

If you find yourself involved in a computer fraud case and need representation, contact us immediately at Anderson Law Firm, PLLC. We provide criminal law, immigration, family law, civil litigation and appeals representation to the Twin Cities Metro area and throughout Greater Minnesota and Wisconsin.