Skip to main content

25 Laws You Might Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She writes about interesting things.

Most common laws broken—sometimes without even knowing!

Most common laws broken—sometimes without even knowing!

Laws You (Might) Break Everyday

Even though you profess to be a law-abiding citizen, you might be breaking some laws without even realizing it. While laws differ from state to state, there are some common laws that are broken in every state and online.

Being ignorant of the law is not a valid defense. Learn what those laws are so you can stop breaking them because you could still be arrested, fined, or jailed even if you weren't aware of them.

1. Using a Fake Name Online

According to The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it is illegal to set up a false social media account and post false information online, including your name and birthday. That means most social media users are breaking the law by setting up false accounts for themselves, and what is even worse is when they set up a fake account and claim to be someone else.

2. Stealing Wi-Fi

It is unlawful to use someone's Wi-Fi without permission. Actually, it is stealing unless you have authorization to use it. Without permission, you might be fined for "Wi-Fi squatting."

According to a 35-year-old U.S. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, it is a felony to access computer systems, including routers, without authorization.

3. Sharing Passwords

It is actually illegal to share your password for Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and other paid sites. It became a violation of federal law in 2016. Either customers don't know this or they ignore the law.

4. Spamming Online

Spamming is the act of sending the same message to large numbers of recipients on the internet. Many popular sites have their own laws against spamming.

Facebook will put you in Facebook jail for spamming. If the site notices that you are in the habit of sending the same message to a large number of people, it will put you in Facebook jail for about three days for the first offense. That means you are locked out and cannot use the site. The punishment is about a week for the second offense. If it keeps happening Facebook can ban you from ever using the site again.

If you must send the same message to many people, do not to everyone at the same time. Divide the list and send the message at different times of the day or over several days.

5. Playing Online Pranks

Teenagers and some adults think it is fun and games to call someone on the telephone as a prank. That type of behavior is considered to be harassment or disorderly conduct. It is against the law to get involved in online pranks.

Almost all online users break copyright laws when they don't know what they can post, tweet, retweet, copy and download. Copyright laws depend on what you are copying from someone else's work and claiming it as your own. This includes any written work, music, movies, games, books, and a host of other things that are downloaded or shared without the owner's permission.

Many things on the internet can be used according to "fair use content." The problem is that a lot of users just grab whatever they see and use it without checking to determine if it is fair use or copyrighted. There are certain sites set up so people can use free images, but keep in mind that there are many images online you should not use as your own.

If you have ever photocopied a textbook, you might have broken a federal copyright law.

If you have ever photocopied a textbook, you might have broken a federal copyright law.

7. Photocopying a Textbook

If you have ever photocopied a textbook, you might have broken a federal copyright law. How much you copy and what you plan to do with the copyrighted text determines if it is illegal or “fair use” of copyrighted materials. In other words, it is illegal to sell the pages of a book for students to use in a class or Bible study.

8. Downloading Music

Most songs are protected under a copyright law. That means downloading that song without paying for it is a crime. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) protect music from being illegally downloaded. The two organizations keep a very close eye on those who download music, especially college students.

9. Hosting a Movie Night at Home or Church Is Illegal

According to copyright laws, if you show a film, television show, or other recordings in public, you’re violating copyright laws. You are not exempt from the law, even if you show a movie in your backyard where your neighbors can see it.

In some states, a person could face a fine of up to $150,000 and other penalties.

Check with the Motion Picture Licensing Corp. to learn about showing a recording in your church without permission. Many churches do it without knowing that it is illegal.

10. Throwing Away Old Cell Phones

It is illegal to throw away old cell phones and other electronics in a number of states. The law is to prevent toxins from ending up in landfills. Before throwing away your old cell phone and electronics, check with your state to find out how you should properly dispose of them without getting fined.

11. Singing "Macarena" in Public

It is illegal to sing “Macarena” and some other well-known songs in public. Check your own state to make sure you are not breaking any copyrighted music laws.

Certain things must be taken into consideration, such as the volume and number of people listening, according to Business Insider.

12. Lying About the Weather

Weather reports are protected by law. If you publish a false weather forecast and claim it’s from the National Weather Service, you could be fined or imprisoned for up to 90 days.

In 2019 former President Donald Trump mistakenly briefed the nation about Hurricane Dorian’s projected path. He altered the National Weather Service map with a Sharpie. He actually broke a law, according to 18 U.S. Code § 2074.

13. Spitting on the Sidewalk

It is better to swallow your spit than to get rid of it on sidewalks or in public. The law came into being to stop the spread of disease. Now that you know that it is a law, don't spit on the sidewalk or in public.

14. Sitting or Sleeping on the Sidewalk

If no bench is close by, you might be tempted to take a seat on the curb while waiting for someone or a bus for a long time. In 53 cities in the United States, it is illegal to sit down on the curb or to lie down on the sidewalk, according to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

It's illegal to sit on the sidewalk in many states.

It's illegal to sit on the sidewalk in many states.

15. Walking While Drunk

Most people are aware of the laws involving drunk driving. It is also unlawful to walk on the sidewalk while being drunk.

Public intoxication is usually a Class C misdemeanor, but each state has its own laws. The fine could be up to $500. Unfortunately, you don’t even need to be drunk. The police can arrest you just for looking and acting intoxicated.

16. Using Someone's Disabiity Parking Permit

It is illegal in some states to use someone's disability parking permit intended for people with disabilities. In some states, the penalty is up to six months of jail and a fine of $250 to $1,000. If you are disabled, get your own disability parking permit. If you are not disabled, park wherever you can.

17. Hanging Items From Your Rearview Mirror

It is illegal in many states to hang air fresheners, fuzzy dice, graduation tassels, masks, a rabbit's foot, and other items from your rearview mirror. Anything dangling from the rearview mirror could be a safety hazard that obstructs the driver's view.

It is illegal to hang things on your rearview mirror.

It is illegal to hang things on your rearview mirror.

18. Gambling at Home

When it comes to having those poker games in your home or starting an office pool for sporting events, you should check the laws in your state. Not all states prohibit gambling at home, but about half the states in America do. The penalty is different in each state.

Many people play card cards at home. It becomes illegal when money is involved.

19. Throwing Out Other People's Mail

When you move into a new residence, it is not unusual to receive mail belonging to the previous residents. If you are tempted to throw it away, think again. It is a federal offense to throw out mail belonging to someone else. This applies to all mail and not just first-class mail. Do not discard anyone's junk mail, third-class mail, or magazines. Notify the post office that the previous tenants no longer live at your address.

20. Failure to Update Your Driver’s License

When you locate to a new state, it is illegal to continue to use your driver's license from your previous state even if you do not own a car. The timeframe for updating your driver's license depends on the new state you have moved to.

21. Fishing and Hunting Without a License

As with other laws, check with your state to find out what the laws are in your state to fish and hunt. In the state of Virginia where this writer lives, "No person shall hunt, trap, or fish without having obtained a license when such a license is required."

There is an exception in some states. Landowners, their parents, spouses, children and grandchildren, and their spouses do not need a license to hunt, trap, or fish within the boundaries of their own lands.

22. Failure to Report Lottery Winnings

There is no law if you fail to report your gambling winnings. However, you should report anything over $1,200 when you file your taxes. Winning more than $1,200 is a different story.

23. Not Getting a License for Your Dog

Every state has its laws regarding pets. If a dog is found without a license, the owner could be fined. It is for the safety of the dog to have a license in case it is lost or stolen. If a dog is found without a license, it could be adopted by someone else. If the shelter is overcrowded, the dog could be euthanized.

Be your dog's best friend and get a license for it.

24. Sharing Prescribed Medicines

It is illegal and dangerous to share prescription medicine. That means you should not give or sell medicine to others. You could be fined or jailed for giving away only one pill because it is a felony. If the person gets sick or dies because of your medicine, you could face lawsuits, or even manslaughter if the person dies. That's a heavy price to pay for giving or selling someone just one pill.

The same situation exists for sharing prescribed medication with family members who live in the same household as you do. Of course, this scenario is different with over-the-counter medicines. It is not illegal to share your aspirins or cough drops.

Jaywalking is illegal.

Jaywalking is illegal.

25. Laws You Know and Break Them Anyway

Two laws have been around so long in every state that some people know about, but they break those laws anyway.

  1. Littering is something most Americans have admitted to doing. A cigarette butt, soda can, gum wrapper, or a piece of paper thrown on the ground is littering. Avoid being fined by not littering.
  2. Jaywalking is a violation of a traffic law by pedestrians. It is a failure to cross the street at a certain time at a designated place. Jaywalking is a law that a lot of people ignore. If you are caught jaywalking in some states, you could be fined up to $250.


Some of The Most Common Ways People Break the Law

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

12 Everyday Things You Didn’t Know Were Illegal

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.