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Have you ever wondered and asked yourself: is catfishing illegal?
People have their entire world shaken by the multiple in-depth lies and deceit told by their catfish, throughout weeks, months, and sadly even years. The wounding result leaves them convinced that their catfish should be in jail or, at least, charged with a crime.
However, someone who is fresh off the wound of being catfished will be dismayed to find that it is legal to pretend to be someone else online.
While pretending to be any fictional character may not be illegal, websites have tried to build up the integrity of their sites by having user rules and guidelines of use. “Terms of Service” mean that to use the site you are to agree to their rules and follow the written code of ethics which they list.
In some cases, lying to sign up under pretenses in violation of terms of service will trigger violations to hacking laws, depending on the user’s motivation. More than likely, if all you did was sign up on the site to look at someone’s page, the site will only remove you as a user.
“My Catfish did more than violate the Terms of Service; they told me it lies so I would wire them money and pretended to be in the military!”
Aha! This is an area when the law starts to care and take notice. While it may not be illegal to pretend to be Mary from the Chesapeake Bay, when your name is Bob from Los Angeles, if you lie online to obtain something specific, it can be illegal.
1. Sara pretends to be a public person in her community whom she does not like. She impersonates this individual and embarrasses them online. The person she is acting to face a backlash loses his/her job and discovers they are being imitated.
Sara could be charged because her impersonation hurt someone’s reputation. The negative things she wrote could trigger libel charges. Lastly, the person could face a civil suit from the victim she pretended to be. It would have been different if she pretended to be a made up person.
2. An adult man pretends to be a teenage boy and requests nude photos of a minor. Whether he pretended to be a child or even if he said he was an adult, it is illegal to solicit such materials from a minor and he would face arrest and jail time, along with likely spending the rest of his life on a sex offender’s list.
3. Jamie pretends to be an awarded military veteran. He uses this identity to woo several women in other states and gets them to give him money for his “well being” and “medical care” from his military service. The women find out he was not whom he claimed to be and are furious.
Not only are they upset that they were lied to, but each gave him over 5 thousand dollars. In this case, Jamie would likely be guilty of fraudulently receiving money with a false identity. Is catfishing illegal? Well, it depends on the suspects intention behind the act.
First, if you’re not sure, take this test: “Am I Being Catfished Quiz.” Second, uncover your catfisher’s identity with a reverse lookup. If you feel your catfish has committed a crime, immediately contact a lawyer, the police, and legal aid in your area, along with saving all your correspondence with this person as proof.
Make a timeline of events and any monies exchanged or other potentially fraudulent behaviors they may have perpetrated. If they have sent you pictures, check to see if those images were stolen to make a fake identity.