Computer crimes: When theft and mischief go digital

On Behalf of | Sep 4, 2023 | White Collar Crimes |

There’s no denying that computers and the internet have revolutionized how people live and work. Thanks to the two, many companies stayed in business even during the COVID-19 pandemic as business continued online.

But as more people rely on computers and the internet, computer crime activity has also increased. According to a study, the average data breach cost in America in 2022 was $9.44 million. This is a marked increase from $9.05 million in 2021.

All U.S. states have computer crime laws. While they’re not new and have existed before the computer crime spike during the pandemic, they have become even more relevant as more businesses rely on digital solutions. South Carolina is no exception, and the state has harsh penalties for anyone convicted of computer crime.

What’s considered unlawful computer use?

South Carolina law prohibits anyone from willfully and maliciously accessing another computer or network without authorization to defraud, steal, or commit other crimes. It also forbids anyone from altering, destroying, modifying without permission or introducing malware that can damage a computer.

This means the law can apply even to offenses that don’t necessarily involve hacking or stealing as long as a computer is involved. For instance, an employee who tampers business data from their employer’s network can face the same criminal charges as a hacker trying to infect a website with malware to induce business loss.

Fines, prison time and other penalties

There are three degrees of computer crime in South Carolina, based on the value stolen from or lost by the victim:

  • Computer crime in the first degree: A person faces this criminal charge if the amount they allegedly stole from an individual or the loss they allegedly forced an individual to suffer exceeds $10,000. A conviction is a felony on record, carrying a maximum $50,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
  • Computer crime in the second degree: This is the criminal charge levied against those accused of digitally stealing or forcing a loss between $1,000 and $10,000. This is also the charge for anyone accused of interfering with a computer service or concealing access to a computer or its data. A conviction is a misdemeanor, and the convicted must pay a maximum $10,000 fine and serve up to a year in prison. A second or subsequent conviction still leads to a misdemeanor on record but with a maximum $20,000 fine and up to two years imprisonment.
  • Computer crime in the third degree: This is for amounts illegally gained or losses induced under $1,000. This is also the charge for anyone engaged in computer hacking. The charge leads to a misdemeanor on conviction, with a maximum $200 fine and up to 30 days in jail. A second or subsequent conviction leads to a maximum $2,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

South Carolina also considers each computer, system or network affected by an offense as a separate violation. A person can face multiple charges for each computer they tamper with.

The state’s laws on computer crimes can be broad, so even someone who accidentally accesses confidential business information can be charged as if they’ve hacked their employer. Because the penalties for computer crime are severe, anyone facing charges should carefully consider their legal defense options.


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