Online Scams: Can You Go To Jail For It?

can you go to jail for scamming someone online

In today's digital age, online scams and fraud have become increasingly prevalent, leading to severe legal consequences for those involved. At Kolsrud Law Offices, we are committed to providing expert legal defense for individuals facing charges related to online scams and fraud in Arizona. 


The number of cybercrime cases, including online fraud, has seen a significant increase in the United States in recent years. From around 467 thousand cases in 2019, the numbers have surged to over 800 thousand.

definition and characteristics of online sacms

Definition and Characteristics of Online Scams

Online scams are defined as schemes conducted via digital channels aimed at unlawfully procuring financial benefits, personal data, or assets from individuals or entities.


Key Characteristics 


  1. Deception: This involves scammers using false information or fabricated identities.
  2. Misrepresentation: When perpetrators pose as legitimate entities to promise false rewards or services, their actions can be prosecuted under general fraud statutes.
  3. Financial Gain: The primary motive of online scams, aiming for financial exploitation, particularly in cases where the scam involves unauthorized access to or manipulation of computer systems for financial gain.
  4. Exploitation of Vulnerabilities: Scammers exploit victims' vulnerabilities, emotions, or lack of awareness. 
  5. Utilization of Digital Mediums: Online scams often use digital platforms like email and social media. 

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Types of Online Scams

Online scams come in various forms, each designed to deceive and defraud unsuspecting victims.


Here's a brief overview of the most prevalent types:


  1. Phishing Scams: Involve sending deceptive emails or messages mimicking legitimate sources to steal sensitive information, leading to identity theft and financial loss. 
  2. Investment Scams: Promise high returns with low risks, often through Ponzi schemes or bogus business ventures, resulting in significant financial losses for victims. 
  3. Romance Scams: Scammers create fake profiles on dating sites or social media, forming emotional connections before requesting money for fabricated emergencies, causing financial and emotional harm. 
  4. Online Shopping Scams: Feature non-existent or counterfeit products on fake online stores, leading to consumers losing money without receiving the promised goods. 
  5. Tech Support Scams: Fraudsters claim to offer tech support, tricking victims into paying for unnecessary services or granting access to personal computers, compromising security and finances. 

Romance scams, particularly on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, have been identified as having the second-highest financial losses among online scams. 

AI-Driven Online Scams

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in online scams represents a new frontier in cybercrime, with several notable cases highlighting this trend.


Documented Incidents of AI in Online Scams

  • Sophisticated Phishing Operations Using AI: In a landmark case, an AI algorithm was utilized to mimic the communication style of a well-known corporation, resulting in a wide-scale phishing scam. Victims, misled by the authenticity of the communications, suffered significant financial losses. 
  • AI-Enabled Romance Scams: A recent incident involved the use of AI-powered chatbots in a romance scam. The AI was programmed to create emotionally manipulative interactions with victims, leading to financial exploitation.
    • The individuals behind this scam were charged under statutes including A.R.S. § 13-2008, which addresses aggravated identity theft, due to the use of fake identities.
  • Creation of Fraudulent AI-Generated Profiles: One notable case featured the use of AI to generate fake social media profiles, which were then used to perpetrate investment frauds. 

How Do Police Track Down Scammers

Law enforcement agencies employ a variety of techniques and tools to track down and apprehend individuals involved in online scams. 


Some Methods Include:


  1. Cyber Forensics: Law enforcement agencies utilize cyber forensics experts who analyze digital evidence from computers, servers, and other electronic devices. This includes examining internet history, email records, and file transfers to trace the scammer's digital footprint. 
  2. IP Address Tracking: One of the most common methods is tracking the IP (Internet Protocol) address used in the scam. IP addresses can often lead investigators to the physical location where the scam was conducted, although scammers may use techniques like VPNs or proxies to mask their true location. 
  3. Financial Transaction Analysis: Investigators closely examine financial transactions related to the scam. This includes tracing money transfers, credit card transactions, and bank account details to identify the recipients of the fraudulent funds. 
  4. Cooperation with Financial Institutions: Law enforcement often works in collaboration with banks and other financial institutions to follow the trail of stolen funds. These institutions can provide critical transactional data and insight into suspicious activities. 
  5. Collaboration with International Law Enforcement: Since many online scams cross international borders, police frequently collaborate with law enforcement agencies in other countries. This cooperation is vital for tracking down scammers operating from overseas. 
  6. Public Reports and Complaints: Tips and reports from the public play a significant role in scam investigations. Victims and whistleblowers can provide crucial information that initiates or advances an investigation. 
  7. Data Analysis Software: Advanced software tools are used to analyze large volumes of data, including email headers, social media posts, and online transaction records. These tools can identify patterns and connections that might not be obvious to human investigators. 
  8. Sting Operations: In some cases, law enforcement agencies may set up sting operations to catch scammers in the act. This involves creating controlled environments to lure scammers and gather direct evidence of their fraudulent activities. 
fbi involvement with online scams

When Does the Federal Government Get Involved with Online Scams?

The involvement of the federal government in online scams is determined by specific factors that elevate the severity or scope of the crime beyond state jurisdiction.


This section will explore the circumstances under which federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Department of Justice (DOJ), take charge in cases of online scams, providing insights into the legal thresholds and implications of federal intervention.


Criteria for Federal Involvement in Online Scams

  1. Interstate or International Operations: If an online scam crosses state lines or involves international participants, it typically falls under federal jurisdiction. This is due to the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which grants the federal government authority over interstate matters.
  2. Significant Financial Impact: Large-scale scams that result in substantial financial losses may attract federal attention. The threshold for what constitutes a "significant" financial impact can vary, but typically, scams involving large sums of money are likely to be federally prosecuted.
  3. Use of Federal Communications: Scams utilizing federal communication systems, such as the U.S. Postal Service or federally regulated telecommunications networks, often warrant federal involvement due to the violation of specific federal statutes.
  4. Involvement of Federal Agencies or Programs: Scams targeting federal agencies or exploiting federal programs, like Medicare or Social Security, will generally be handled by federal authorities.
  5. Violation of Federal Laws: Certain types of online fraud, such as identity theft or wire fraud, are explicitly covered under federal statutes. For example, wire fraud is governed by 18 U.S.C. § 1343, making it a federal offense.


Notable Federal Laws and Statutes

  • 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (Wire Fraud Statute): This statute is often used to prosecute online scams involving electronic communications that deceive victims for financial gain.
  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA): This act addresses crimes involving unauthorized access to computers and networks, a common tactic in many online scams.


Penalties for Online Scams in Arizona

Understanding the penalties associated with online scams is crucial,  for those facing such charges in Arizona.


The state's legal system outlines specific repercussions for individuals convicted of online scam-related offenses, with the severity of penalties varying based on the nature and extent of the crime. 


Key Penalties Under Arizona Law


  1. Imprisonment: Conviction for online scam offenses often results in imprisonment. The duration of the sentence depends on the severity of the crime and whether it's classified as a misdemeanor or felony 
  2. Fines: Significant fines are commonly imposed on individuals convicted of online scams. The amount can vary greatly, depending on factors like the financial impact of the scam and the defendant's criminal history.
  3. Restitution: Courts may order those convicted of online scams to pay restitution to their victims. This is particularly relevant in cases involving financial losses, where the defendant is required to compensate the victims for their monetary damages.
  4. Probation: In some cases, especially for lesser offenses or first-time offenders, probation may be given instead of, or in addition to, imprisonment. During probation, the individual must comply with specific court-ordered conditions.
  5. Criminal Record: A conviction for an online scam will result in a criminal record, which can have long-term effects on employment opportunities, housing, and more.
  6. Asset Forfeiture: In certain circumstances, assets obtained through the proceeds of online scams can be subject to forfeiture. This means that any property or money gained from the scam may be seized by the state.

Severity Factors Influencing Penalties


  • Nature of the Offense: More serious offenses, such as those involving a large number of victims or significant financial losses, typically result in harsher penalties.
  • Defendant’s Criminal History: Repeat offenders or those with a prior criminal history may face more severe consequences.
  • Amount of Financial Loss: The total amount of money or value of property lost by victims plays a critical role in determining the severity of the punishment.
defenses for online scams

Defenses to Online Scams Under Arizona Law

When facing charges related to online scams in Arizona, several defense strategies can be employed. These defenses are crucial for protecting the rights of the accused and ensuring a fair trial. 

  • Lack of Intent to Defraud

     A fundamental element in fraud cases is the intent to deceive or defraud. Demonstrating that the accused did not have fraudulent intent can be a powerful defense. 

  • Mistaken Identity

    In the digital world, where anonymity is prevalent, mistaken identity is a common issue. The defense can argue that the accused was not the person behind the alleged scam.

  • Insufficient Evidence

    A successful prosecution for online scams must be supported by substantial evidence. Arguing that the evidence presented is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime is a standard defense strategy.

  • Entrapment

    If law enforcement induces a person to commit a crime that they would not have otherwise committed, it can be argued as entrapment. This defense is particularly relevant in sting operations related to online scams.

  • Authorization and Consent

    In some cases, the defense may argue that any actions taken were with the authorization or consent of the alleged victims. 

  • Duress or Coercion

    If the accused was forced or coerced into participating in the scam, this can be a viable defense. Under duress, individuals may commit acts that they would not have done under normal circumstances.

How Kolsrud Law Offices Can Help You

Kolsrud Law Offices, led by Josh Kolsrud, offers exceptional legal representation for those accused of online scams.


Josh Kolsrud, a seasoned Arizona federal crimes attorney, brings a wealth of experience to the table. He began his legal career handling thousands of felony cases at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, where he was repeatedly recognized as "Attorney of the Month" for his outstanding trial work.


With a record of handling over 3,500 cases and conducting over 100 jury trials, Josh's expertise is invaluable for anyone facing accusations of online scams.


At Kolsrud Law Offices, clients can expect a thorough and strategic approach to their defense, ensuring their rights are protected every step of the way; contact us today at 480-680-9769; we offer a free initial consultation to discuss your case and best course of action.        

An award-winning criminal defense attorney Since 2006

Why Choose Josh Kolsrud

With over 100 trials to his name, and years of experience as a state and federal prosecutor, Josh understands the law, the legal process, and your rights. Josh is also committed to representing every client with utmost integrity and dedication



Josh has prosecuted major crimes on the state and federal level, led a successful anti-human sex trafficking operation that saved lives, and argued before countless juries and justices for his clients



Josh is an expert in both Arizona and federal criminal law, and is ready to put that expertise to work for you.



As a prosecutor, Josh saw far too many defendants lose their livelihood due to poor representation. Josh will always give every client his complete attention and effort

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