Is catfishing illegal? This is a common question that people ask especially when they have encountered a catfish. Catfish is a term that, since 2010, is used to describe a person who pretends to be another person or creates a fake identity online with the aim of forming relationships with people, romantic or otherwise. The scam usually involves using another person’s pictures as well as fake personal information.
Catfishing has become a major threat to online users, particularly on major social media platforms. There’s no telling what a catfish aims to gain; sometimes they are just looking to pass time, some are looking to trick you into a romantic relationship, while some could be planning serious crimes against you such as fraud, theft, sexual assault or even murder in rare cases.
Before we look at whether catfishing is legal or not, let us first look at some of the signs that you are dealing with a catfish:
1. The Relationship moves too fast
Most catfishing stories you hear reveal how the catfish comes on to their potential victim strong and quickly. If within the first few interactions a person seems to be pushing your relationship forward quickly without having met you, there’s a high chance you’re being catfished.
2. They never want to show you their face
Nowadays, every messaging app has a video chat function. A foolproof way to tell if someone is a catfish is by asking them to do a live video chat with you on one of these apps. If they refuse and insist on strictly communicating through texts and phone calls, or they keep making excuses every time you request for the video chat, that’s probably a catfish.
3. Their social media usage is not normal
You can usually tell a genuine social media account from a fake one if you check the activity. For instance, if it’s on Facebook, you should check their timeline, friends, status updates, comments on such updates, and their overall activity if you can access it. If the account has few friends, few posts, no activity in their feed, or fake-looking comments on their posts, you might be dealing with a catfish.
4. They ask for your personal details
Some questions people you meet online ask you such as where you grew up, where you live, where you work, and others may appear innocent but they could be an attempt by a catfish to get important information about you. For instance, if someone you met online asks for your exact address or credit card information, run for the hills.
5. They ask you for money
Everyone needs a helping hand every now and then, but it should be from close friends or family, not random people you met online. If someone you met online asks you for money, no matter how much or for what purpose, take it as a red flag. Even if you’ve known this person for months or even years, don’t do it. Some catfishes will take their time trying to build some form of relationship with you so that you can trust them.
5. It seems too good to be true
If you know that, at best, you are a 4 then someone who looks like a supermodel is suddenly interested in you, there is probably something catfishy going on. Do all their pictures seem perfect and flawless? Do you have everything in common? Do they always seem like the perfect match for you in all respects even though you never met? If so, proceed with caution; they may be a catfish.
6. They have elaborate stories
When trying to gain your money or pity, catfishers really know how to pull on your emotional heartstrings. They’ll tell you deeply personal stories about their struggles or experiences to create a connection with you. They will also have an elaborate story behind every excuse such as why they can’t video chat or why they need that money sent immediately. Beware of such storytellers.
Now, for the moment you have been waiting for, Is catfishing illegal?
Well, the answer is yes and no. Catfishing is illegal when:
- The intent is to defraud the victim, steal from them, or do anything that harms them.
- The fake photos the catfish uses are infringing on any copyright laws.
- The victim is a child who was tricked by an adult catfish into engaging in sexual conversations or sharing sexual photos and other media.
- The catfish uses the real identity of another person and does things that make the person look bad in the public eye.
Catfishing is not illegal when there is no evidence of the above scenarios or when someone was doing it just to get a romantic partner. It is not illegal to pretend to be someone else online even though it could be in violation of the laws of that particular site.