12 Everyday Things You Didn’t Know Were Illegal
You've probably broken every single one of these laws.
You’re breaking the law
If you think you’re a perfect rule follower, chances are you’re not. Check out these everyday things you didn’t know were illegal in the United States. How many laws have you broken? On the other hand, here are 18 things you think are illegal, but aren’t.
Using a fake name online
There are a lot of strange laws out there but this one makes sense. When you’re trying to protect your information online, it seems a lot smarter to create a fake name than giving away any real details about yourself. But while you might be safe from hackers, you might not be safe from the law. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act has a stipulation that says you can’t use a computer “without authorized access,” which can include not following a site’s terms of service, according to NPR. It would depend on the site’s policy, but if you actually bother reading the fine print, you’ll probably see a line agreeing not to provide false information. Famously, one Rhode Island prison guard famously had to pay a $500 fine for setting up a fake Facebook page of his boss. The state has since revoked its law against “use of fraudulent information,” though.
You probably know you shouldn’t steal your neighbor’s Wi-Fi, but logging onto the free Wi-Fi from a Starbucks you’re passing seems innocent enough. In reality, though, it’s not. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984 laid out laws against hacking, but it’s just vague enough that even low-level Wi-Fi theft could get you arrested. The rules vary from state to state and the regulation is rarely enforced, but some have gotten in trouble. One Michigan man was even fined $400 and given 40 hours of community service in 2007 for connecting to a café’s Internet without paying for anything. He’d been piggybacking its free Wi-Fi during his lunch breaks for more than a week, according to FOX News. These days, now that most Wi-Fi is password-protected, you could probably argue your way out of a fine, but there haven’t been enough court cases to set a clear standard, according to Wired.
Ignoring your eBay habit on your tax returns
If you run your eBay profile like a garage sale, just getting rid of junk you already own, no need to declare your profit on your tax returns. But if buying and selling for profit is more like a hobby or full-blown business, the IRS could track you down, according to TurboTax. Just like any other side-hustle, you’re required to declare your earnings and pay taxes.
Having a few too many drinks
Obviously drinking and driving is illegal, but you could get arrested even if you walk home (or to the next bar). Public intoxication is usually a misdemeanor, but state laws vary. In Texas, for instance, the Class C misdemeanor of being drunk in public could mean a fine up to $500. Sometimes you don’t actually even need to be drunk—police can arrest you just for looking intoxicated, and you’d need to prove yourself sober later. You probably won’t get arrested just for giggling with your friends, but police could stop you if you are being a loud nuisance or look like you can’t take care of yourself. “I’ve had clients who have been arrested for just sitting on the curb and looking like they’re about to pass out,” Los Angeles–based criminal defense attorney Diana Aizman tells Vice. Make sure you don’t own any of these pets that are actually illegal.
If you need to hock a loogie, better wait until you can find a trash can. In states and cities around the country, including Massachusetts; New York City; and Dodge City, Kansas, it’s illegal to spit on sidewalks or in public. The rules were meant to stop the spread of disease, but you have to admit spitting in front of everyone is also just plain gross.
Sitting on the sidewalk
If you’ve been waiting for a bus or a friend for ages, you’ll probably be tempted to take a seat on the curb until they arrive. In some cities, though, it could be illegal to sit down there. About 53 percent of American cities—including Santa Cruz, California, and Virginia Beach, Virginia—have laws against sitting or lying down in public, according to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. If you’re curious, this is why it’s “illegal” to remove a mattress tag.
Downloading music for free
Downloading music for free from services like Limewire or Youtube is mostly a thing of the past since everyone has a subscription to a streaming service these days, but it’s still illegal. Most songs that come out are protected under a copyright law meaning that downloading that song without paying for it a crime. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are the two primary groups that police the illegal downloading of music and they tend to keep a very close eye on colleges and universities. If you live in these states, it’s also illegal to warm up your car.
Playing poker with a group of friends
Playing poker with your friends using chips that don’t have a monetary value is completely harmless, but if you start involving money you could be crossing into illegal territory. The Illegal Gambling Business Act states that a game of poker generating over $2,000 of revenue is illegal. You’d have to be playing with some serious bidders to get your winnings that high, but it could happen. Here are some bizarre things you can (legally) bet on.
Sharing your password
If eight of your friends are logged into your Netflix account and you’re constantly telling them to get off when you want to watch a show you finally have an excuse to kick them out for good—because it’s illegal. Password sharing is a violation of the U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, according to a July 2016 ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Be aware of these new laws that could affect you in 2020.
Not getting a dog license
It’s enough of a pain to remember to renew your registration, license, and inspection every year or every few years, but having to also remember to renew your dog license can be a pain. But, if you don’t you’re doing something that is illegal. Prices and rules vary from state to state, but most require a dog license so owners can prove that their canine is up to date on their rabies vaccinations. Here are some other weird dog laws you didn’t know existed in the United States.
Throwing away an old cell phone
A number of states have laws saying it is illegal to throw away cell phones and other electronics to avoid the toxins entering landfills. States such as California, New York, Illinois, and North Carolina are just some of the states where it is illegal. Before tossing your cracked cell phone make sure to research if it’s illegal in your state and how you should properly dispose of it so you don’t get fined.
Walking to a crosswalk when there’s no traffic coming might seem silly, but crossing without one could lead to a hefty fine. States and cities set their own laws, but you could get a ticket if you’re caught—sometimes as high as $250 in places like New York City and Los Angeles.
NPR: “Is Lying on the Internet Illegal?”
Cornell Law School: “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act”
NOLO: “Stealing Wi-Fi from Your Neighbor: A Victimless Crime?”
FOX News: “Michigan Man Fined for Using Coffee Shop’s Wi-Fi Network”
Wired: “Burning Question: Is Wi-Fi Squatting Illegal?”
TurboTax: “A Tax Filing Factsheet for eBay Sellers”
Trey Porter Law: “Public Intoxication San Antonio”
Vice: “A Lawyer Explains How Drunk You Have to Be to Get Arrested”
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty: “No Safe Place”
Webster University: “Illegal Downloading & File Sharing”
LetsGambleUSA: “Illegal Gambling Business”
CNBC: “Netflix price hike may spur growth in illegal password sharing”
Great Lakes Electronics Corporation: “Is it Illegal to Throw Away Electronics?”