What are the Different Types of Internet Theft Penalties?

Marlene Garcia

Only a few countries, such as the United States and Australia, impose specific Internet theft penalties for identity theft fraud. The different types of Internet theft penalties penalties include incarceration, monetary fines and making restitution to the victim or victims. These crimes can vary by jurisdiction and might be as minor as misdemeanors or as serious as felonies.

Changing online banking passwords regularly may help prevent internet banking fraud.
Changing online banking passwords regularly may help prevent internet banking fraud.

In the U.S., Internet theft penalties for offenses such as identity theft, identity fraud and identity theft scams fall under two general categories: federal penalties and state penalties. Federal penalties are uniform for various breaches of these laws, but state punishments vary. The U.S. Identity Theft Protection Act of 2004 provided tougher sanctions for those convicted of identity theft or fraud. Under the law, maximum Internet theft penalties were increased from three to five years in federal prison, and some offenses were changed from misdemeanors to felonies.

Depending upon the severity, Internet theft may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony.
Depending upon the severity, Internet theft may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony.

The law added enhancements for phishing scams and aggravated identity theft. If a criminal used stolen personal data to commit another crime, such as immigration fraud, time could be added to the prison sentence, because the crime is considered aggravated identity theft. Additionally, any terrorist act that arises from identity theft could be punishable by as much as 25 years in prison, or possibly more.

Individual U.S. states’ laws and Internet theft penalties range from misdemeanor crimes to felonies. Penalties for serious violations of the law vary but could include fines of $100,000 US Dollars or more and imprisonment for 10 years or more. A basic premise of identity theft in all states requires restitution for any losses suffered by the victim. Offenders can be tried in state or federal courts, depending on the circumstances of the crime.

Under its anti-spamming law, Australia imposes also Internet theft penalties. Violators can be jailed, fined or both. As of 2010, Canada was reviewing proposed legislation to provide identity theft protection for its citizens, and no such laws existed in Europe, China, Japan or in other industrialized nations. The lack of international Internet theft penalties hampers investigators who seek information about Internet crimes committed in foreign countries. Cybercriminals often find safe haven from prosecution in countries that do not have Internet theft penalties.

More identity theft cases occur in the U.S., where personal information is readily available through public and private databases, than anywhere else. Several organized identity theft rings that prey on victims, especially the elderly, have been identified around the world. As confidential information becomes more common on social networking sites, through online banking and from Internet shopping, the number of these crimes is considered likely to rise.

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Discussion Comments


One of the truly aggravating things about identity theft is catching the people who engage in it. Let's say a scammer sets up a site that redirects traffic from legitimate sites to one that is set up to grab credit card information. By the time people figure out what's going on, that site is typically shut down and finding the identity of the thief is difficult, anyway.

You can have harsh penalties for Internet crimes, but how can you enforce them when people who break the law can hide so easily? This is a question that lawmakers have struggled with for at least the past two decades. They're getting better at locating and punishing Internet criminals, but much work still needs to be done.


The notion of identity fraud has scared a lot of people from engaging in shopping online. We have, after all, seen plenty of reports of people getting credit card information stolen and thieves going on shopping sprees.

That is a real danger, but here are a couple of things to consider. First of all, is it more dangerous to enter your credit card information online with a reputable retailer or to go down to a local store, present a credit card and let that business maintain an online credit card database with your information in it? Honestly, your information will be online either way.

Second, United States law states that you won't be liable for more than $50 if your credit card information is taken through fraud and someone buys stuff with it. Quite often, credit card companies will even waive those fees if you report that your information has been stolen as soon as you learn that to be the case.

In other words, shopping online is as safe as using a credit card at a local store in most cases. And you are protected in case something goes wrong.

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