Victim's "Computer Illiteracy" a Factor in Fraud Sentence

Here’s an interesting decision out of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. A jury convicted an Indiana woman of embezzling $80,000 from a doctor. The defendant previously served as the doctor’s office manager.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, a judge may take into account whether the “defendant knew or should have known that a victim of the offense was a vulnerable victim.” The judge applied that enhancement in this case, holding the doctor was a “vulnerable victim” due to her–wait for it–complete “computer illiteracy.” According to the judge, he had “never seen anyone as technologically unsophisticated as [the doctor], and concluded that this made her especially vulnerable to [the defendant’s] computer-based theft scheme.”

In fact, the doctor testified in court that “she did not understand how to use a computer, did not bank electronically, did not send her own e-mails, and did not even use ATMs.”

The Seventh Circuit upheld the sentence, although it noted that even if the trial judge had not applied the “vulnerable victim” enhancement, the defendant’s actual sentence would have been the same.


Courts are starting to take cyber crime seriously and meting out sentences to fit. It will stop the professional cyber-criminal but may have an impact on those dabbling on the fringe.