It can be really difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate communication and a scam. Every day many of us receive unsolicited e-mails or texts. Some of them are phishing or smishing scams, and others are legitimate communications that are reported as scams.
Phishing and Smishing Scams
Phishing is an illegal attempt to get personal information from someone else so that it can be sold or used in other scams.
These attempts may be by:
- Phone. Phone scams often come in the form of robocalls.
- E-mail. E-mail scams are common and are known as phishing.
- Text. Text scams are also common and are known as smishing.
While there are many different types of phishing scams, the phisher often poses as a trusted source or tries to scare the recipient into releasing information. For example, a phisher may pose as:
- A bank or credit card company
- A trusted retailer
- The IRS, FBI, or another government agency
- The police
- A healthcare provider
Some of the information a phisher may seek includes your :
- Social Security number
- Driver’s license number
- Bank account numbers
- Credit card or debit card numbers
- PINs (personal identification numbers)
- Electronic identification codes
- Automated or electronic signatures
- Biometric data
- Any other information that can be used to access a person’s financial resources, obtain identification, act as identification, or obtain money, credit, loans, goods, or services.
Additionally, some phishing or smishing scams include links for people to click that appear legitimate but actually install spyware onto their device to get sensitive data.
Virginia Phishing Laws and Penalties
Virginia Code §18.2-152.5:1 makes it illegal for anyone other than law enforcement officers doing their jobs, “… to use a computer to obtain, access, or record, through the use of material artifice, trickery or deception, any identifying information…” Identifying information includes all of the things listed above that a phisher may seek.
A person who obtains identifying information in violation of the statute has committed a Class 6 felony. The potential penalties for a class 6 felony in Virginia include up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both a prison term and a fine.
Anyone who sells, distributes, or uses identifying information in the commission of another crime has committed a Class 5 felony. The potential penalties for a class 5 felony in Virginia include a prison term of up to 10 years, a fine of up to $2,500, or both a prison term and a fine.
While there is no federal phishing law, phishing scams may violate various federal laws including, but not limited to:
- Wire fraud laws. It is a federal offense to use a computer, a cell phone, or any device that sends information over state lines to defraud someone. You cannot commit wire fraud by accident. Instead, you must have intended to defraud someone. The typical sentence for wire fraud is a prison term of up to 20 years and a fine. However, if the fraud is connected to a federal disaster or a federal emergency, or if it affects a financial institution, then the penalty may be a prison term of up to 30 years and a fine of up to $1 million.
- Identity theft laws. It is also a federal offense to knowingly possess with intent to use, transfer, or sell someone else’s identification documents. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, the potential penalty can be up to 30 years in prison and a fine.
Given these significant potential legal consequences, you should take steps to protect your rights if you are accused of violating the law.
Contact an Experienced Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer If You’re Accused of Phishing
Your e-mail, text, or phone call may have been legal. You may be wrongfully accused of phishing for personal information and violating Virginia or federal law. If you do nothing, then the consequences of a conviction may be severe.
Accordingly, we encourage you to contact our experienced Virginia fraud defense attorneys today to set up an initial consultation. Phishing cases are complex and often involve multiple state and federal laws. We will advise you on all of your legal options, and we will make sure that all of your rights are protected so that you are treated fairly.