People have been impersonating other individuals for personal gain and revenge since the dawn of time. In the Internet age, impersonation is accomplished more easily than ever. It’s not uncommon to hear about a scorned lover or angry ex creating a fake social media account in the other’s person name in an attempt to “get back at them” by harassing, stalking or intimidating them. Because Internet impersonation can have devastating consequences, Texas law prohibits online impersonation in two different ways. One portion of the statute covers social networking sites and other websites, and the other section deals with email, text messages, and message boards. Here’s a look at the law, consequences and examples of online impersonation:
Impersonating Another on a Social Networking Site or Other Website
Impersonating another on social media is prohibited by law if all the following elements are met:
- The person does not have the consent of the person they are impersonating;
- The intent of the person is to cause harm, or defraud, or threaten, or intimidate another;
- The person uses the other’s name or persona; and either
- The person creates a web page on a networking site or other website; or
- The person posts or sends messages using the site (other than through email or message boards).
This is a third degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in prison.
Impersonating Another through Email or Text Messages
Email is another type of internet communication that may be used to impersonate another. Similar to impersonating another on a social networking site, several elements must be met for the state to prove online impersonation via email or messaging board including:
- The person sends either an email, an instant message, a text message or other, similar message which includes references to the name, domain address, phone number or other information which identifies one other than the sender;
- The person doesn’t have consent to make this representation;
- The purpose of using the other person’s name is to cause the recipient of the information to believe the other person either sent the message themselves or authorized another to do so; and
- The intent of the message is to harm or defraud anyone, including both the recipient, the named person, or another person.
This is generally a Class A misdemeanor, but it can be a third degree felony if it was done with the intent to solicit a response from emergency personnel.
What is Catfishing?
The term “catfishing,” which is sometimes spelled “catphishing,” refers to someone using a fake online persona to lure the victim into an Internet romance or for malicious purposes or self-gain. Catfishers who adopt the persona of another real person might be guilty of online impersonation depending on what their intent was. Romance scammers can be prosecuted for a variety of offenses once money becomes involved – including mail fraud and wire fraud.
What is the Punishment for Online Impersonation?
Impersonating someone via social networking or other websites is a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Impersonating someone through email is a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in a jail sentence of up to one year, a fine of up to $4,000, or both. Reference Penal Code Section 33.07 for more information.
What are Examples of Online Impersonation?
Some examples of online impersonation might include:
- Creating a website, uploading messages, or sending emails under another person’s name.
- Assuming another person’s identity on a messaging app to send and receive nude photos.
- Posting an ad on Craiglist and offering to sell another person’s property while providing the victim’s address and contact information.
- Creating a fake social media site in an ex-girlfriend’s name in order to make it appear as though she is an escort.
Online Impersonation Criminal Defense Attorneys in Fort Worth
If you or a loved one has been accused of online impersonation, it’s vital to contact an experienced computer crimes defense attorney as soon as possible. The quicker an attorney can start fighting your case, the better off you will be. Our team of former prosecutors and Board Certified Criminal Lawyers are here to help. Call us at (817) 203-2220 for a complimentary strategy session. During this call we will:
- Discuss the facts and circumstances of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the potential consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply and in general terms discuss our approach to your case.