Phishing – a social engineering scheme carried out through emails – has existed for decades. Many phishing emails in the past sound like obvious grifts, such as emails claiming to be from a Nigerian prince or banks who are asking for way too much information from recipients.
But while many have wizened up and know what to look out for, phishing remains very relevant to this day, and many people still fall for the schemes.
According to a report, 2022 was a record year for phishing, with the number of attacks recorded for the period hitting more than 4.7 million. Phishing attacks have also intensified over the recent years, with the same report saying that the number of incidents increased by over 150% per year since 2019.
You might think that sending a phishing email to a co-worker or some other person would be a great way to enact some petty revenge. However, you could be charged with a crime under federal law and face severe penalties.
Federal law on phishing
There’s no specific federal statute for phishing, but anyone caught sending or attempting to send a phishing email can face federal charges for similar offenses.
Phishing can count as wire fraud under federal law. Wire fraud is a catch-all term for any scheme that utilizes electronic communications (in this case, email) to perpetrate fraud. If an individual is convicted of wire fraud, they face up to 20 years imprisonment and a maximum $250,000 fine. These penalties can also apply per count. For instance, if you send three phishing emails, you could face up to thrice the number of prison years and fines on conviction.
Officials can also charge you with identity theft for attempting phishing. A conviction for this charge leads to up to 15 years in prison.
You can also face charges for aggravated identity theft for your phishing attempt. Aggravated identity theft occurs when a person knowingly transfers or uses the stolen identification details of another. You can face an additional two years of prison if you’re convicted of aggravated identity theft.
Phishing never pays
The federal government takes cybercrimes like phishing very seriously. Even a joke email asking for sensitive credentials and bank information can be evidence against the sender. Anyone facing federal charges for a phishing attempt should remember that they face decades in prison and heavy fines if they can’t defend themselves in court.