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What is Computer Fraud?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 16, 2024

The definition of what constitutes computer fraud becomes ever more complex with the ingenuity of people who intend to deceive, misrepresent, destroy, steal information, or cause harm to others by accessing information through deceptive and illegal means. Just as individuals have to be careful when they are walking down the street or in their homes when they lock the doors at night, they need to be careful of the many examples of fraud that will make their way onto their computers.

Types of computer fraud vary and can be complex or simple. Simple types of fraud might include the following:

  • Sending hoax emails intended to scare people.
  • Illegally using someone else’s computer or “posing” as someone else on the Internet.
  • Using spyware to gather information about people.

These actions are fraud because they are deliberate misrepresentations of the truth. They progress into more harmful actions as they grow more complex and include the following:

  • Emails requesting money in return for “small deposits.”
  • Pyramid schemes or investment schemes via computer with the intent to take and use someone else’s money.
  • Emails attempting to gather personal information to be used to access and use credit cards or Social Security numbers.
  • Using someone else’s computer to access personal information with the intent to use such fraudulently.
  • Using the computer to solicit minors into sexual alliances.
  • Violating copyright laws by copying information with the intent to sell it.
  • Hacking into computer systems to gather large amounts of information for illegal purposes.
  • Hacking into or illegally using a computer to change information, such as grades, work reports, etc.
  • Sending computer viruses or worms with the intent to destroy or ruin someone else’s computer.

There are many different legal ramifications for those practicing computer fraud, especially when such practice can be shown to be harmful and physically or financially damaging to others. Most laws make the distinction between a person who knowingly commits fraud and someone who does so accidentally. For instance, passing on a hoax letter about a potential virus is a common trait among new computer users, and isn’t really fraudulent. Deliberately generating a hoax letter to scare others is fraud with the intent to at least emotionally harm others. Generally, when a person has intentionally committed a fraudulent act with a computer, they can be subject to both criminal and sometimes civil prosecution, and at minimum they will pay fines if they’re convicted of minor fraud. People who steal information or money with a computer, either directly or through fraudulent means, can face jail time and large fines.

Even though there are stiff penalties for committing computer fraud, laws governing against it may be difficult to enforce. Some of the email scams for investment opportunities and get rich quick schemes originate outside of the country where the victims are, and it may be difficult to instigate investigations on foreign soil. Computer users should be wary and commit to the following computer philosophy when they on the Internet:

  1. Users should not give personal information to anyone or to any company they have never heard of before. This includes the person's full name, address, phone number, credit card number, Social Security number, or information about the people in the household.
  2. Individuals should not pay attention to get rich quick schemes. If they seem too good to be true, they absolutely are.
  3. Email users should not open messages from strangers. Everyone should install antivirus software and spam blocking programs.
  4. People should never download attachments from people they don’t know.
  5. Children should be taught about safe communication on the Internet to protect them from predators.
  6. Individuals should not keep passwords on their computer, and they should not use common passwords like the names of kids, birthdays, or other guessable words. No one should ever give a password to someone else.
EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a EasyTechJunkie contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon358523 — On Dec 11, 2013

While all this excitement is going on about an hour of code, it's a good time to show the code in Apple's stock that shows its movement on a daily basis. This code was added to Apple June 2013. A sixth grader could understand this example. I have contacted just about every newspaper, t.v. station, professor, investigative journalist in existence. This code is also in the Dow index and controls the direction of the entire market every day.

By anon116210 — On Oct 06, 2010

good piece of work.

By PelesTears — On Jun 29, 2010

@ Fiorite- My sister had her identity stolen a couple of years ago. Someone had stolen her information and opened a couple of credit cards in her name.

She only found out when she went to apply for a private school loan that someone in Georgia had charged-off thousands of dollars on credit cards in her name. When the bank pulled her credit report, she found out thieves opened the accounts four years earlier when she was only 16.

She was able to get this taken off of her report by supplying proof that she was not of legal age when the accounts were opened, but not before it was too late to pay her school bills. My parents ended up having to take out a home equity loan to pay for that semester.

The thief must have stolen her information through the internet because she had never been to Georgia and does not know anyone in Georgia. Now, she is very careful about how she uses the internet.

By Fiorite — On Jun 29, 2010

@ parmnparsley- I am a student, and my school website requires that I change my password every 90 days. I cannot use the same password twice and the password must be an alphanumeric password that uses a combination of capital letters, lowercase letters and special characters. I find it a little annoying, but I would much rather deal with the annoyance than a crashed computer or stolen identity.

I have also had past employers require password changes to protect against computer fraud. Login passwords for registers and time clocks were required monthly as well as password changes for their online payroll website.

By parmnparsley — On Jun 29, 2010

Another important tip to prevent computer fraud is to be careful what information you share online. Many social network sites double as marketing sites, relying on the gathering of information to make money. If you are not careful, you will end up sharing volumes of personal information with complete strangers.

I had a recent episode where my password to my social networking site had been hacked. I got a notice saying that someone used my password to access the site from somewhere in Eastern Europe. I have a couple of friends who live in Europe, and all I could think was that allowing "friends of friends" to view my information left me vulnerable to people I do not even know.

I am assuming that my profile gave away some clues about my password making it easy for someone else to figure out. On sites where Thieves can gain access to sensitive information, I now use alphanumeric passwords that I change every couple of months. It is a pain to write down every password I have, but I now have peace of mind. For thieves to steal my passwords, they must physically break into my house and find them.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a EasyTechJunkie contributor, Tricia...
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