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Cyber Crime

Criminalizing The Internet, Computers As Targets Or Criminal Tools, Page-jacking, Internet Fraud

The Internet is a worldwide electronic computer network that connects people and information. It has changed the way Americans communicate, purchase goods and services, educate, and entertain themselves. Possibilities for Internet use seem unlimited. Communication anywhere in the world takes only seconds with electronic mail, or email. Pictures and sound files are easily sent by email. People in areas far from cities can buy as many goods off the Internet as are available in shopping malls. Those who live far from colleges can take courses through the Internet or do research without going to a library. Searching databases such as encyclopedias or directories takes only minutes. News is available online almost as soon as it happens.

Anyone can set up a Web site and post information for the whole world to see. The Internet has also become a major way for companies and the government to conduct business and provide information. By 2004 a serious disruption of computer systems in either a business or government agency can virtually stop all transactions until the problem is corrected. In 1998 65 million Americans at work and at home used the Internet. This figure grew to 149 million by 2001 and (The Gale Group) 530 million worldwide. With the number of Internet users expected to keep climbing, the prospects for electronic commerce (buying and selling of goods) looked bright as sales topped $56 billion by U.S. firms in 2003.


Traditional offline crimes are committed at a particular geographic location by a person with a street address at a precise point in the United States or in another country. Which law enforcement agency investigates the crime is easily determined by jurisdictional or geographical boundaries—city, state, or country. Internet crimes are committed in cyberspace, on worldwide computer linkages. Local, state, national, or international boundaries do not exist for cyber crime.

A phony online pharmacy in New York, for example, might sell prescription drugs to residents in a number of states such as Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Each state would have to subpoena (call for) records from New York, A Pennsylvanian police officer demonstrates Global Positioning System technology, which incorporates satellites and cell phone technology to track movements of various suspects. (AP/Wide World Photos) and New York would have to agree to help each state investigate the scam. One state might refer its case to New York, but if no one was victimized in New York, the case might never be investigated.

Jurisdictional problems are more severe when they involve international cyber crime. A group selling nonexistent items might be based in India or Thailand but targets buyers in the United States. It is possible to route communication through several countries before reaching the United States. State law enforcement agencies would have to get assistance from the Department of Justice's international affairs officers who in turn would contact each foreign country involved. All of this is made more difficult because a criminal's trail ends as soon as he or she disconnects from the Internet.


Another problem facing cyber investigators is identification of the cyber criminal. Cyberspace is considered an anonymous medium where someone's identity is unknown and cyber criminals can completely hide their real identities. They can change origination sites almost instantaneously or proceed through many sites before targeting a victim. Experienced cyber criminals alter both the source and destination of their communications. Further transmission information may be kept by Internet providers like AOL and MSN for only a short period of time.

Cyber criminals can easily hide their identities; they create false personal information and work on the Internet under many screen names, or aliases. With billions of people using the Internet, it can be nearly impossible to trace a skilled cyber criminal.

In 2004 the FBI and Computer Criminal Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), both in the Department of Justice, had become the lead law enforcement agencies dealing with cyber crime. The FBI Investigative Programs, Cyber Investigations Unit is charged with protecting the nation from cyber crime. It investigates terrorist activities on the Internet as well as cyber criminals, including sexual predators. The FBI provides training to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies at its headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, and other locations nationwide.

The CCIPS has a team of about forty lawyers who concentrate on all types of cyber crime. CCIPS prosecutes cases and advises and trains prosecutors and law enforcement agents in combating cyber crime. They also advise on and propose needed legislation to help control cyber crime and coordinate international efforts to deal with computer crime. The CCIPS oversees the National Cybercrime Training Partnership (NCTP), composed of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. The NCTP provides education in the latest law enforcement techniques for fighting cyber crime.

The FBI and National White-Collar Crime Center (NW3C) together established the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) to receive, develop, and refer complaints of cyber crime to the proper law enforcement agency. The IC3 receives complaints of all types of cyber criminal activities.

For More Information


Clifford, Ralph D., ed. Cybercrime: The Investigation, Prosecution, and Defense of a Computer-Related Crime. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2001.

Sherman, Mark. Introduction to Cyber Crime. Washington, DC: Federal Judicial Center, 2000.

Wallace, Jonathan, and Mark Mangan. Sex, Laws, and Cyberspace. New York: M&T Books, 1996.

Web Sites

Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.cybercrime.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).

"Cyber Education Letter." Investigative Programs: Cyber Investigations. Federal Bureau of Investigation. http://www.fbi.gov/cyberinvest/cyberedletter.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

"The Electronic Frontier: The Challenge of Unlawful Conduct Involving the Use of the Internet." U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/unlawful.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Internet Crime Complaint Center. http://www.ic3.gov (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Investigative Programs: Cyber Investigations. Federal Bureau of Investigation. http://www.fbi.gov/cyberinvest/cyberhome.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

"Online Child Pornography Innocent Images National Initiative." Investigative Programs: Crimes against Children. Federal Bureau of Investigation. http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cid/cac/innocent.htm (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law