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Commercial Emails and White Collar Crime

Most of us have been annoyed at one time or another by the presence of spam in our email inboxes. However, few are aware that sending these types of mass emails is often prohibited by federal law and can be prosecuted as a white collar crime, so if you have been accused of using predatory or abusive commercial email practices, you should contact a white collar crime attorney who has the experience and resources necessary to help you formulate a strong defense.

Prohibition Against Predatory and Abusive Commercial E-mail Practices

Out of concern that spam emails could be used as a tool to perpetrate fraud, Congress authorized the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute those who send commercial emails in bulk under certain circumstances. However, a person or company can only be convicted of this offense if they sent bulk commercial emails in order to facilitate the commission of a federal crime related to one of the following:

  • Fraud and false statements;
  • Obscenity;
  • Sexual exploitation of children; or
  • Racketeering.

For example, a person can be charged with fraud in connection with email if he or she:

  • Knowingly accessed a protected computer without authorization and initiated the transmission of multiple commercial email messages;
  • Used a computer to relay or re-send commercial emails with the intent to deceive recipients;
  • Falsified header information in multiple commercial emails in a material way before initiating the transmission of the messages;
  • Intentionally falsified someone’s identity in order to register for five or more email accounts before initiating the transmission of multiple commercial emails; or
  • Falsely represented him or herself to be the registrant of five or more internet addresses and then sent a number of commercial emails from those sites.

Those who are convicted of this offense face fines and imprisonment of up to a year, although the sentence could be increased to three years if:

  • The offense involved 20 or more falsified email accounts;
  • The defendant sent more than 2,500 commercial emails within a 24 hour time period, 25,000 emails in a one month period, or 250,000 emails in a year;
  • The offense caused someone else to lose $5,000 or more during a single year; or
  • The offense was undertaken by the defendant and three or more other people.

Finally, repeat offenders could have their sentences enhanced further to five years in prison.

Sentencing Guidelines

When a defendant is convicted of this offense, judges are permitted to take a series of factors into consideration during sentencing. For example, a sentence could be enhanced if there is evidence that a defendant obtained electronic email addresses through improper means, which could include:

  • Harvesting email addresses without authorization;
  • Randomly generating email addresses; or
  • Using an internet domain for which the defendant registered using false information.

A sentence can also be enhanced if prosecutors can demonstrate that the defendant knew that the email messages contained an internet domain name that was registered with false information, and the defendant had also been convicted of fraud, child pornography, or identity theft involving the transmission of commercial emails.

Get the Legal Representation You Deserve

If you are being investigated for an email-related white collar offense, please contact dedicated white collar crime lawyer Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. at (305) 670-9919 today. Our skilled Miami legal professionals are prepared to assist you immediately.

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