A Digital Crime: Is Catfishing Illegal?

March 3, 2020

A Digital Crime: Is Catfishing Illegal?

Do you remember the MTV show Catfish where the program hosts tracked down the too good to be true online lover? This isn’t just a made for TV problem–it happens in real life. Catfishing, also known as romance fraud, is a growing problem in our digital era. So what exactly is it and is romantic fraud an actual crime?

Catfishing Defined.

Catfishing occurs when one person interacts online with another via chat, email, app, or video software and may use the likeness of a completely different person. Using that other identity, the pretender tries to convince the victim to engage in certain activities under false pretenses.

While pretending to be someone you are not is not inherently a crime, the criminal offense of fraud or coercion is possible and likely depending on the actions committed. Typically, catfishing becomes a crime when the individual leverages the fake relationship in order to receive money, personal or financial information or to make purchases with the victim’s finances. It also becomes further complicated if minors are involved. While charges can be filed for using another person’s image online, those cases are less common.

According to the FBI, 18,000 people were victims of catfishing, or romance fraud, in 2018 with 

Pennsylvania as one of the top five states with the highest number of catfishing cases reported. 

Who is Likely to Be a Victim?

While reports have been made from individuals of various ages, education levels, and income brackets, certain people are more likely to fall victim to catfishing. It is most often reported, however, by elderly women who have lost a spouse.

Typically, those who are pretending to be someone they are not assume the identity of military members located overseas or business owners seeking partnership on major investments. 

I Pretend to Be Someone Else Online. Can I Get Sued?

With online dating profiles on the rise, many individuals overexaggerate who they really are. But when you pretend to be someone entirely different than yourself, it can be problematic. You may worry you are doing something illegal, however, if you have a catfish persona for some reason, avoid illegal activity and do not use images of other people, ask for money or goods, engage with minors or impersonate a real-life person.

I’ve Been Accused of Catfishing. What Are My Options?

If you have been accused of catfishing but have not committed any fraudulent activity, you’ll need the expertise of a criminal defense lawyer who can help build your case. You will need to show that money or property had not been exchanged in most cases to prove your innocence.

Our NEPA Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Defend Your Catfishing Case

Whatever crime you have been charged with, no matter how minor or serious your charge might seem, make sure you contact our law firm as soon as possible. A delay in contacting us may hurt your case.

The time to act is now. Contact the Scranton criminal defense attorneys at Mazzoni Karam Petorak & Valvano today for a free consultation. 

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