Is Catfishing Illegal?


The term "catfishing" gained widespread recognition and popularity in the context of online dating, largely due to its use on the MTV reality show "Catfish: The TV Show." The show, which premiered in 2012, exposes individuals who create fake online personas to deceive others into developing emotional, romantic, and/or fiscal relationships. While catfishing may seem like a harmless prank to some, catfishing can have serious and lasting consequences for all parties involved.  

In some cases, catfishing can even result in criminal charges. In this blog, we will discuss when catfishing might be considered a crime.  

What Is Catfishing?  

Catfishing is the act of creating a false online identity to deceive someone else. It is often done with malicious intent, such as to swindle money or other resources from unsuspecting victims. Catfishing can take many forms, from using fake photos and profiles on social media sites to creating entire personas that are completely fabricated to using a real person’s photos and information in scheming others. In some cases, catfishers may even use stolen identities for their own gain. 

Is Catfishing a Crime in Florida?  

Legally speaking, catfishing can be considered a form of online deception or identity theft and may be punishable by law depending on the severity of the case. For example, if a catfisher uses someone else’s personal information to commit fraud or other criminal activities, they could face serious legal consequences. Additionally, if a catfisher engages in cyberstalking or harassment, they could also be held liable under various state and federal laws. 

Here are some of the offenses a person can be charged with for catfishing: 

  • Identity theft (Florida Statute § 817.568). This occurs when someone uses another's personal identifying information without their consent and with fraudulent intent. Personal identifying information can include a person’s name, postal or email address, birthdate, telecommunication information, and any other information that can be used to access a person’s financial resources. While simply using a fake profile or information online would not warrant this information, a catfisher may face identity theft if they fraudulently use personal identifying information obtained while defrauding another party. If convicted, the severity of the offense depends on the value of the property or services obtained, ranging from a third-degree felony (up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 fine) to a first-degree felony (up to 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine). 

  • Criminalized cyberstalking and harassment (Florida Statute § 784.048). If catfishing involves threatening, intimidating, or otherwise harassing the victim, it may fall under the harassment statute. Depending on the specific actions and their impact, this can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony, with penalties ranging from up to 1 year in jail and up to $1,000 fine for a first-degree misdemeanor to up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 fine for a third-degree felony. 

  • Transmission of harmful material to a minor (Florida Statute § 847.0138). If the catfisher sends explicit or pornographic materials to a minor, they could be charged under this statute. This is considered a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 fine. 

  • Florida computer crimes (Florida Statute § 815). Catfishers may also be charged with crimes under the Florida Computer Crimes Act.  

  • Florida communications fraud (Florida Statute § 817.034). Catfishers may also be charged with crimes under the Florida Communications Fraud Act, which includes any schemes to defraud and communicate with any person with the purpose of getting property from that person.  

These are just a few examples of potential criminal charges related to catfishing in Florida. The specific circumstances of each case will determine which charges may apply and the severity of the consequences. It is always best to consult with a licensed attorney for accurate and personalized legal advice. 

Consult with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney  

At the Law Office of Jody L. Fisher, our attorney has over 20 years of legal experience and is known for her dedication to our clients. If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges because of catfishing, our firm can help you understand your legal rights and develop a personalized defense strategy. Not only do we have a proven track record of success, but we also have experience handling white collar crimes, including identity theft. 

You can trust us to help you develop a strong defense strategy. Call (352) 503-4111 to schedule an initial consultation today.  

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