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Is Spear Phishing Illegal in California?


With more and more people having access to the internet and email, it is easy to send communications back and forth to one another. Often times, individuals use electronic media to ask a friend for help or request information for an upcoming event. However, if a person requests confidential information to unlawfully log into a computer or program, they could be committing an offense referred to as spear phishing.

For example, say Troy, a university student, creates a fake email address that appears to be linked to the dean of the school. He uses that email to send faculty members a request for their user name and password for a grading program, saying the IT department is going to be making updates to the system. Believing the email is legitimate, the professors send the information. Troy then uses the logins to go into the system and change his grades. In doing that, he could be charged with a criminal offense.

Laws Prohibiting Accessing a Computer System or Network

Under California Penal Code 502(c) PC, if a person knowingly accesses a computer system without consent, they could be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony depending on the specific actions they took.

In the example above, Troy could be accused of altering or deleting data without permission and with the intent to defraud or deceive. This offense is a wobbler. If Troy is convicted of a misdemeanor, he could face up to 1 year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. However, if he is found guilty of a felony, he could be penalized by 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison and be fined up to $10,000.

Speak with Our Attorneys During a Free Consultation with Appel & Morse

California law regarding access to computer systems or networks is diverse, and often, people are charged with offenses when they had no criminal intent. Our attorneys fight hard to prevent those wrongfully accused of committing internet crimes from facing a conviction. When you work with us, we will take the time to understand your circumstances and develop an effective legal strategy for your case.

To schedule your free consultation, call us at (805) 467-6060 or contact us online.
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