“Someone stole my website!”

Someone to whom you entrusted your website business – your former employee or independent contractor – has hacked your website and hijacked your traffic. Not only that, he has locked you out of your website so that you can’t stop him! He has used the information he gained while in a position of trust, to access administrative privileges, shut you out, and take your customers. Then, he redirected your website traffic to another site. You want to stop him and make him pay for the damage he caused. What can you do?

In order to stop him, you are going to need someone familiar with computer programming or at least the content management system you are using. This is the person that is going to take steps to shut out the hacker. If all you are interested in doing is stopping him, then you don’t need to be too selective. However, if you want him to pay for what he’s done, then the first person to access your systems should be an expert who knows the procedures for preserving evidence so that a proper forensic examination can be conducted for use in a criminal and/or civil prosecution. This expert should be someone who could provide reliable and credible testimony in court regarding the proper procedures followed.

There is a criminal side and a civil side of going after these hackers. On the criminal side, we think of the federal laws that are involved. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) partner together to solve and prosecute these crimes.

The FBI takes cyber crime seriously with key priorities in computer and network intrusions and fraud. They have an online internet crime complaint center to file a complaint. The FTC protects consumers from deceptive trade practices which injure consumers and competing businesses. It also provides for an online complaint process.

When something like this happens, we think of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is a United States copyright law that provides both civil and criminal penalties for circumvention of copyright protection systems, regardless of whether there is actual infringement. The threat of liability is strong here, in that the law, 17 U.S.C. § 1204 provides for the criminal offense and penalty of $500,000 and/or 5 years imprisonment, for the first offense; and $1,000,000 / 10 years for a subsequent offense. In civil court, the DMCA allows you to request your actual damages or if you prefer, statutory damages of up to $2,500 per act of circumvention.

We want to address the economic injury to your business caused by deceptive or wrongful business practices. Unfair competition and unfair trade practices issues arise, along with the unauthorized use of intangible assets by misappropriation and passing off where consumers believe that the hacker’s goods or services are coming from you. Another form of unfair competition that may be applicable is the use of confidential information by a former employee to solicit customers, theft of trade secrets. The law of unfair competition is governed by state law, however federal law may also apply in the areas of trademarks, copyrights and false advertising.

Conversion and unjust enrichment are also potential claims. Prohibited under Michigan law, conversion applies if your hacker improperly gained access and obtained possession of information belonging to you, and then improperly and under false pretenses downloaded/uploaded or otherwise redirected that information from you and converted it to his own and for his own pecuniary benefit. He would be unjustly enriched at your expense and would be obliged to make restitution.

There is also a claim for any interference with your prospective economic advantage, where there is the existence of a business relationship in which the probability of future economic benefit is more than speculative.

We at Walsh Law PLLC will help you determine the course of action to take, from contacting the culprit by phone or in writing, requesting removal from search engine results, through preparing a complaint with counts that cover your individual scenario to filing a lawsuit. We will get you the results you deserve.