Catfishing is the term used to describe deception about one’s identity online, generally with an ulterior motive or in simple words The practice of using a fake profile to start an online romance is known as “catfishing”.  It is often seen used across social media platforms for bullying purposes or through online dating to pursue someone romantically under false pretences. Catfishing is a serious problem with online interactions where one person deceives another through chat, in email or with video software where the other person uses the likeness of someone else. When the person uses the identity or convinces the target to engage in certain activities, the criminal offense of fraud is possible and likely.

However Catfishing itself is not a crime and is not in and of itself illegal under the law, however, it will be considered illegal in certain circumstances. Every state and territory has laws making fraudulent behaviour a crime, with hefty financial penalties and jail time that follow. However, the actions of the instigator of catfishing usually engage in some form of illegal activity at some point. The person with the fake profile could engage in criminal actions through infringement of intellectual property, defamation or impersonation for the use of another’s likeness, sexual violations with minors or by engaging through illegal activity with a minor or fraud. Almost anything the person does could have legal ramifications when he or she catfishes another person. If the perpetrator lives in another country, he or she may not suffer legal consequences for these actions that location. However, what the catfisher does under the guise of a fake profile may fall into a few legal areas:


  • Copyright – Depending on where the catfisher found the image, the owner of the image may be able to pursue a copyright violation. Unfortunately, it’s often close to impossible to find the real person from the photo, especially if it’s a photo not publicly available. Intellectual property infringement may occur through copyright violations where the person uses copyright material at some point. Claiming ownership, using other IP to gain something from the target or using the IP to access to something else could also start an instance of fraud. Pursuing a claim against the perpetrator of the actions is often difficult if he or she does not know who it is or cannot discover the culprit. However, with the assistance of a professional or a lawyer, it is possible to find the individual and take legal action such as a civil suit or inform the local law enforcement to seek justice.


  • Impersonation  Impersonating someone isn’t illegal in itself. It becomes illegal when you receive some form of benefit from the impersonation. For instance if pretend to be a police officer and go somewhere you’re not allowed, or you receive an award based purely on your impersonation.


  • Child sex offences If you catfished someone under a certain age just so you could engage in sexual conversation with them or to receive sexual photos, you can get in serious trouble.


  • Defamation  If you used the real name and photo of a person and then did anything which made them look bad to people who know them, you may be at risk for defamation charges.


  • Fraud  If you catfish someone entirely to get money or goods from them, this may fall into the fraud category.When the person engaging in catfishing does commit criminal fraud, he or she may face legal justice if the victim is able to identify who he or she is and contact the authorities in taking the matter to the courts. This often requires the help of a service to investigate the matter and find the individual. If the perpetrator is not in the country, seeking justice becomes more difficult. The matter may require the help of an international lawyer.


Fraud is often both a criminal charge and a tort. Fraud claims may be premised on the fact that a person materially represented himself or herself, another person reasonably relied on this misrepresentation, the person knew that the representation was false and intended the other person to rely on it and the other person was injured in some manner. Some scenarios in which this crime or tort may be successful is when the perpetrator uses a position of trust in order to acquire money, credit or other things of value from the victim. If the victim pursues a criminal case against the perpetrator, the court may order the perpetrator to pay the victim restitution. If the victim pursues a civil case, he or she may be able to receive compensation for his or her financial losses and potentially punitive damages if the conduct was particularly egregious.

Other more serious charges may apply to people who prey on children online to cause them harm or to engage or procure sexual activity. Catfishing may also violate the terms of use of the particular social media or dating platform, so any such behaviour should also be reported by users to ensure the profile of the catfish is suspended immediately.

Legal Defense Against Criminal Fraud

If the person engaging in catfishing does not commit fraud but only uses the name or image of another person, he or she may need to hire a criminal defense lawyer to defend against fraud charges. If no money or property exchanged hands, the individual will need to demonstrate his or her innocence with legal support


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