When one person creates a false persona online, people call that catfishing. A catfisher may steal someone’s photos or alter their own to make them appealing to certain people. They will then attempt to establish relationships with people under those false pretenses, often romantic ones.
Catfishing used to be a rare phenomenon, but it has become part of mainstream culture. Some people will happily pose as alternate versions of themselves or a completely different person online. They play with people’s hearts and can cause real emotional trauma.
People who catfish may do so out of boredom or maliciousness because they want to confuse and upset other people. Others may try catfishing in the hopes of financial gain. In situations where catfishing leads to financial compensation or gifts, it is possible that the person lying about their identity could find themselves facing criminal charges related to fraud.
When does catfishing become a form of criminal fraud?
Just lying to someone about your identity isn’t inherently a crime. However, when that lie influences the financial decisions that someone makes, it could become fraud. Romance fraud can cost people thousands of dollars.
For example, a man posing as a single mother might convince a potential suitor to send hundreds of dollars for past-due rent or baby supplies. When one person catfishes someone else with the intention of financially defrauding them, the potential for criminal prosecution is there. However, the person catfishing online does not necessarily have to go into the situation seeking financial gain.
Simply accepting money or gifts offered under false pretenses could be enough to trigger fraud accusations, even if the catfisher did not initiate the conversation about the money or a gift. When money or valuable items change hands, an act of catfishing changes from just another form of virtual misconduct to actionable fraud.
Digital decisions can have real-world consequences
Someone who feels romantically spurned or tricked may have a strong incentive to seek justice. While digital bullying is part of the modern online world, some people will seek real-world justice for the emotional trauma or financial losses they experienced online.
Understanding how seemingly innocent online behavior could lead to actual fraud charges to help you make better decisions about your digital life.