Criminal Law

Catfishing: How Pretending to be Someone Else Online Can Lead to Criminal Charges

Isn’t the internet great? Internet technology allows us to communicate with friends and family around the world. It also allows us to purchase items while scheduling shipments directly to our homes. We can complete university degree programs on our own time and hold business meetings with people in different countries, all with the click of a button. However, internet technology has also introduced a several new kids of criminal activity. The virtual world attracts people who desire anonymity and prey on gullible internet users. This criminal activity can take many shapes, one of which is the recent sensation known as catfishing. In case you haven’t heard of it, let’s review what catfishing is and how it can lead to criminal charges.

What is Catfishing?

Catfishing stems from the 2010 film Catfish, and subsequent MTV show of the same name. As defined by its creators, to catfish is “To pretend to be someone you’re not by posting false information.” The term has come to specifically refer to online dating situations, with one person creating a false online profile in order to lure other online users into emotional or romantic relationships. It’s incredibly simple to set up online profiles and fill them with false information. The online dating scene can be a prime place to attract the attention of someone looking for love.

Warning Signs

Here are some things to watch out for in your online communications with people:

  • Beware users that are overly hesitant about sending pictures of themselves. Being careful is always a good thing but at a certain point, this behavior should raise suspicion.

  • If someone has exchanged pictures but claims to not have a webcam. It’s incredibly easy to find pictures of anonymous people online. If the other person makes excessive excuses as to why they cannot video chat with you, this could be an indicator that they may be deceiving you.

  • Carefully review their online profiles. Beware people who have a new Facebook account with only a couple of people labeled as friends. This can be another indicator.

While none of these behaviors are guarantees that the person is catfishing, they should still looked at skeptically. This is especially true if two or more are present. When you communicate online, just be aware of caution signs that you may encounter. You can never be too safe on the Internet.

Legal Consequences of Catfishing

Legal ramifications for catfishing vary from state to state. The severity of the damage caused by the catfish is also a factor in the consequences. If a person creates a false online profile in order to obtain money, this is considered fraud and can be prosecuted in the courts. If no money was involved, but the catfishing activity resulted in emotional damage, this can instigate a civil suit but can only bring criminal charges in rare instances. Because this is still a relatively new type of criminal activity, courts and official are working through the legal details and