The Five Most Commonly Broken and Overlooked Laws

The average American citizen tries to follow the rules and is as law-abiding as they come. If you ask that average citizen if they’ve ever broken any laws, they will probably laugh you off and say “of course not.”

Are they lying? Actually, many of them are. The problem is, they don’t realize they are breaking the law. There is a large segment of the U.S. population that breaks the law because they don’t realize that the law they’re breaking actually exists.

No matter how law-abiding you think you’ve been, there’s a good chance you’ve broken one of these following laws:

1. Throwing Out an Old Tenant’s Mail

If you live in an apartment, you’ve probably done this. You open your mailbox and you get a letter addressed to someone you don’t know. Assuming the letter is addressed to an old tenant, the temptation is to throw it away. The penalty for throwing out or opening someone else’s mail, however, could be as high as a $250,000 fine and a five-year federal prison sentence! If this happens to you, call the post office and alert them that this person no longer lives at your address. Drop the old tenant’s mail off at the post office – yes, even “junk” mail. You can also mark the mail “return to sender” and give it back to your postal worker.

2. Connecting to an Unsecured WiFi Network

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) states that you aren’t allowed to use an unsecured WiFi network without prior authorization. You could get charged with a felony if you knowingly or unknowingly connect to a network that doesn’t belong to you. The possibility of getting arrested for getting on a WiFi network is pretty minimal. After all, most networks are secure these days unless they are offered up for free by a business. To protect yourself, turn off any “automatically connect to wifi” functions on your mobile devices.

3. Carrying a Sharpie in Public

Just about every office supply closet has a Sharpie in it. There’s probably one in your utility drawer at home. Nevertheless, the federal government considers a Sharpie a graffiti tool. If you get caught with one in a public place, you might be in trouble. A 13-year-old Oklahoma student was arrested in 2010 when he marked up his desk with a Sharpie and violated an obscure city ordinance.

4. Speeding

It’s almost human nature. Many people don’t try to stick to the exact speed limit. They try to find that magic number just above the limit that won’t get them noticed by cops. Needless to say, even if you are only a mile or two over the speed limit, you can get pulled over and given a ticket. Think about how much it might cost you for those extra 5 mph next time you set your cruise control.

5. Digital Piracy

Remember Napster? Downloading free music was all the rage in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The internet has changed quite a bit since then, and so have the laws that protect musicians. If you get caught pirating music, you could face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. Civil penalties could be tacked on to that at a minimum of $750 per song!

If you’re ever caught breaking a law you didn’t know about, seek the legal guidance of our attorneys at Smith, Paulson, O’Donnell & Erickson. We have more than 100 years of combined experience, and our lawyers use a team approach to help businesses, individuals and families with their legal needs.

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