When Catfishing Becomes Criminal Fraud

man on computer

Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney

With the advancement of the internet, it was only an eventuality that people online would start to deceive others that could not physically see them. This impersonation even got its own term – catfishing. After being popularized by the MTV show, “Catfish,” catfishing is now widely used to describe the act of someone online pretending to be someone else. It could be a fake persona who is somehow more attractive or wealthy, or it could even be another real person who is not the owner of the profile. However, while catfishing is fraud, the question remains – is it criminal fraud?

How Catfishing Becomes Criminal

As it stands now, the act of impersonating someone or creating a false persona online isn’t illegal. However, what many fail to realize is that catfishing someone has a way of being just right on the border of illegality. Often as a relationship advances, it can border into criminal fraud or other crimes through the following:

  • Infringing on intellectual property by using another’s image
  • Defamation of the person they are impersonating
  • Using your persona in engage or illicit sexual acts with a minor
  • Using your fraud to receive money or goods from another

All of the above are illegal and a criminal case can be brought forth against you. Simply saying you are someone else in a chat room if you are just chatting isn’t illegal. However, in these modern times, using someone else’s photo to craft your fake persona, is an illegal infringement on their intellectual property. In this way, this is how many catfish cases are actually doing something illegal even if they aren’t meaning to.

However, infringing on intellectual property isn’t typically the most serious crime a person can do. If the owner of the picture finds it on another’s profile, they have the right to pursue a case, but the occurrence is rather rare. Far more common are the much harsher criminal cases against someone who catfished their way to a number of gifts or money from another.

One of the key aspects of a catfish, other than an unwillingness to meet in person, is asking for money or other items. Some are craftier than others. Some catfish may build up a relationship and then just casually say they need X amount to fix their car or else they will get fired from work. Feeling emotions and sympathy for that person, another person may offer up the cash freely. However, this is still very much fraud. Even when someone offers up good without asking can still be fraud if you are not who you say you are.

Protecting a Catfishing Persona

If you are engaging in catfishing, you may worry about the legality of it, and perhaps you should. However, many who catfish maliciously are from other countries doing it for profit. If you have a catfish persona for one reason or another, you can avoid problems with the law often by just avoiding illegal activity. Don’t use the pictures of others, don’t ask or receive money or goods, don’t engage with minors, and don’t impersonate real people.

Often times, a defense to this criminal activity can be that the catfish simply didn’t know what they were doing was illegal. This can help your defense and limit the punishments that can be used against you. While legal action against a catfish isn’t common, it can happen, and you need to be active in your defense if it does.

If you have been arrested for fraud due to catfishing, contact us today. The Anderson Law Firm can help represent you to make sure you don’t suffer criminal punishments for a fraud charge that you probably didn’t even know was illegal in the first place.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact attorney Kirk Anderson for an initial consultation.