Coronavirus has disrupted everyday life on a large scale, but the Department of Justice has recently warned of even more disruptions in the form of criminals exploiting COVID-19 in order to scam the public.
They say that crimes perpetrated over the computer (such as credit card fraud, identity theft, and even the offer of fraudulent cures for COVID-19) are surging.
While this is undoubtedly true — since everyone is on their computers these days, it makes sense that more crime would migrate there — it’s important to be careful about what kinds of actions you take online since law enforcement officials are clearly paying a lot of attention right now.
You do not want to be charged. In Texas, these crimes are taken very seriously and the consequences for anyone accused of perpetrating them can be severe.
Texas Consumers Told to Watch for Credit Card Fraud
According to the DOJ, malicious apps and websites pose as sites that are sharing information related to COVID-19, but what they’re really doing is accessing your device in order to steal consumers’ personal financial information.
Illegitimate and fake charities are also popping up whose sole purpose is to seek fraudulent donations. Both of these can fall under the umbrella of credit card (financial) fraud in Texas.
Credit card fraud is defined by the Texas Penal Code as a crime that:
- Uses a debit or credit card to make purchases without the consent of the card owner
- Uses an expired debit or credit card with the full knowledge that it is invalid or expired
Crimes that involve these tactics are a felony. They are punishable by up to two years in prison as well as a fine of up to $10,000.
If the victims of these crimes are elderly, then the felony can be upgraded to a third-degree felony. Third-degree felonies are punishable by a jail sentence between two and 10 years. They also carry a fine of up to $10,000.
Credit Card Crimes Sometimes Considered Identity Theft in Texas
The crimes mentioned by the DOJ can also fall under identity theft in Texas. To use someone else’s identifying information in order to obtain money, services, goods, or anything of value is considered identity theft under Texas law and it is a felony.
Using the information of another person, no matter their age (or even if they’re deceased), is considered identity theft as well.
If convicted of identity theft, the penalties depend on the severity of the crime and how many items were possessed, obtained, or transferred.
Perpetrators face up to two years in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, and possible community service and probation if they are found to have less than five items.
If a person is found in possession of more than five pieces of identifying information belonging to other people, then the charges can be enhanced and they can face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Making False Product Claims Also Counts as Fraud in Texas
With a pandemic sweeping over the world, people are being convinced to buy fraudulent cures or treatments for the virus. The DOJ has warned that some people, as well as some businesses, are selling fake cures for coronavirus online, a fraudulent activity for which there are severe penalties under Texas law.
In order for something to be considered fraud, it must be proven that false statements were made with the full knowledge they were false, and with the intent to deceive someone.
The intent to deceive establishes that a promise was made that could not or would not be fulfilled, such as selling COVID-19 cures online when no such cure exists.
When it comes to penalties, the harm to the victim or victims plays a role. Fraud can range from a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 to a first-degree felony that is punishable by anywhere from 5-99 years in prison as well as fines up to $10,000 and damages up to $200,000.
How Texas Businesses Can Protect Themselves from Charges
How can you protect yourself from these computer crimes charges in the time of COVID-19? Be very careful about the kinds of activities you engage in through the computer.
If you or your business are promoting anything related to coronavirus, avoid making claims that cannot be proven. Only charge customer credit cards when you have their express permission. Keep track of what those in your employ are doing. Above all, be transparent in your actions.
Computer crime charges can have a lasting impact on your life. To protect yourself from them, you must always be diligent.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.