The popularity of conducting consumer and other financial transactions through the Internet has led to an increase in Internet fraud. Texas has one of the strictest Internet fraud laws in the country to target phishing and other criminal activities that attempt to gain access to an individual’s confidential personal information to use in committing other crimes.
Phishing employs the use of emails to solicit confidential information from an individual through deception and fraud. The Business and Commerce Code of Texas makes it a crime to send emails to a resident of the state that engages in the following conduct:
For example, an email designed to make the recipient believe it is from a well-known bank might claim that the individual’s credit card or bank account at that financial institution has been compromised in some manner. The email usually asks the person to click on a link to the bank’s website where personal information is requested to help the bank in its “investigation.”
In reality, the website was created to look like the one belonging to the real financial institution, but any information provided goes to the scammer. The information can be used to make unauthorized purchases in the email victim’s name or to access the funds in a victim’s bank accounts.
The law requires proof that a person charged with committing the crime of phishing actually intended to obtain the personal or confidential information through a fraudulent or deceptive means. An email sent to a customer requesting the person’s credit card number and other information to complete a purchase on the customer’s behalf is not phishing. Phishing requires the use of intentional deception or misrepresentation to obtain the information.
A successful prosecution for violating the Texas laws against phishing does not require that the people who are the targets of the deceptive email comply with it by providing the personal information. The criminal conduct is the sending of the fraudulent email. It is also not a defense to claim that the personal information was never used to commit other crimes.
Phishing is punishable through criminal and civil penalties. Criminal penalties include confinement in a jail or prison, fines, restitution and probation. Civil penalties in Texas awarded to a victim can include an injunction to prevent future violations and actual money damages or $100,000 for each violation, whichever is greater.
Phishing charges are very serious. An individual who is charged with phishing can face both large monetary fines and lose their freedom to a jail cell. Don’t allow this to happen to you. Call Rand Mintzer for a free legal consultation session at 713-862-8880.