Catfishing is misrepresenting yourself to others online. Sometimes catfishing is part of an underlying crime, such as identity theft or fraud. But, you may only be presenting yourself with a different identity because you are uncomfortable with your own. Even this seemingly innocent act could land you in legal trouble, though.

To be clear, catfishing itself is not illegal. However, according to Social Catfish, pretending to be someone else becomes illegal when the person proceeds to run a scam. If your intentions are not to defraud, you may avoid issues, but you should keep in mind the ways that your actions could have unintended negative effects.

Criminal actions

Catfishing becomes a crime if you use the identity of a real person with the sole intention of making that person look bad. For example, if you pretend to be that person in a social forum and post things that could portray that person in a bad light, then you have stepped over the line into a potential legal situation. Perhaps you only meant to embarrass someone by acting like them online, but in this case, catfishing could result in charges.

It is a crime to claim to be someone of influence, such as a law enforcement officer. Perhaps you believe someone is up to something illegal, so you tell him or her that you are an officer to compel them to be honest with you. In this exchange, regardless of the other person’s guilt, you have become the one committing a crime.

Terms and conditions

While catfishing, in general, may not be illegal, some websites do include it in their terms of service as an unacceptable action. The terms and conditions often say that you can only use your real name and identity when using the website or service. If administrators find you are misrepresenting yourself, then they will deactivate your account and potentially report you to authorities.