Living in the age of the internet has its advantages. You can find the hottest places to eat in any given neighborhood or get answers to almost any question in a matter of seconds. In some cases, you may even find love.
Today, there are all kinds of online dating websites and apps to choose from. For many, these sites offer a convenient place to meet others with similar interests. There is one major problem, however. You can’t always be sure that the person you’re talking with is exactly who they say they are.
While some people are honest, you may come across someone who’s pretending to be someone they’re not. It can be quite a shock when you find out that the person you agreed to meet looks nothing like the photos you saw on their profile. The act, known as catfishing, is a fraud and if you’re wondering whether victims have legal recourse, here’s what you should know.
Is catfishing illegal?
The internet affords a lot of anonymity. Some people take advantage of this by pretending to be someone they’re not. Here are a few reasons why people do this:
- To pursue a relationship with someone
- To cyberbully someone (such as a classmate or celebrity)
- To get money from someone
In some cases, a person who engages in catfishing uses someone else’s pictures on their profile. In other cases, they may gain access to a real person’s online account and pretend to be that person.
While it’s certainly deceptive, catfishing is not illegal in and of itself. It can quickly become illegal, though, when it crosses certain lines.
How can catfishing become a crime?
Catfishing itself might not be illegal, but the line that separates it from illegal activity is very thin. It may become a crime if the person doing the deceiving does any of the following:
- Intentionally inflicts emotional distress on another person
- Infringes upon another person’s intellectual property by using their images to impersonate them
- Defames the character of the person they’re impersonating
- Uses their online persona to get goods or money from others
- Gains unauthorized access to a system or network
- Commits identity theft and uses another person’s financial information
- Solicits minors or involves minors in illegal activities
Can you sue someone for catfishing?
If you find yourself the victim of catfishing, your options will depend on what the catfish did and where you live. You may also need to prove that the catfish committed such acts as those listed above.
Some states have laws against impersonating someone else online. In New York, for instance, a person can go to jail if they impersonate someone else for personal gain or to defraud or injure another. You can also file a personal injury claim if a catfish inflicts emotional distress on you. If you’re unsure of the laws in your state, check with a lawyer.
Summing it up
Finding yourself the victim of catfishing could leave you feeling upset, confused, or angry. Unfortunately, pretending to be someone else isn’t technically illegal. If the pretender crosses the line into criminal activity, though, you may have legal recourse. Don’t hesitate to seek advice from a lawyer if you’re unsure.