Unraveling the Web of Catfishing: Is it illegal?



The phrase “catfishing” has become well-known in the dynamic world of online relationships as a dishonest tactic that can have serious repercussions for those who engage in it. This article seeks to clarify the definition of catfishing, examine its subtleties, and discuss whether or not this type of misleading action is considered unlawful.

What is catfishing?

The practice of establishing an online persona with the intention of misleading people is known as “catfishing.” The 2010 documentary “Catfish,” which tracked a filmmaker as he learned the real identity of his virtual love interest, is credited with coining the phrase. When it comes to catfishing, people will use fictitious names, profile photographs, and other details to initiate contacts or relationships under false pretenses.


Important Features of Catfishing:

An online conversation when someone pretends to be someone or something they are not is known as “catfishing.” The sufferer may suffer grave consequences as a result. Fraud may be committed criminally when the perpetrator assumes a false identity or persuades the target to do specific actions, such as mailing large sums of money.

Fake identity creation:

Catfishers create online identities using either stolen images, wholly made-up information, or a combination of the two.

Deceptive Intentions:

Catfishing can have a variety of reasons, but fooling people for one’s own benefit, emotional gratification, or even to commit scams is a common one.

Online interactions: 

In order to manipulate feelings and create connections with gullible people who think they are communicating with someone else, catfishers frequently take part in online interactions.

Is catfishing illegal?

Is catfishing illegal?

By itself, taking someone else’s identity online is not criminal. Nonetheless, the person who starts catfishing frequently engages in illicit activities at some point. The individual who created the false profile may have committed crimes such as intellectual property infringement, defamation or impersonation for the purpose of using another person’s likeness, sexual offenses against minors, engaging in unlawful activity with minors, or fraud. When a person catfishes someone else, almost anything they do could have legal repercussions. The offender might not face legal repercussions for these acts in that country if they are a resident there.


Issues Associated With Catfishing

A variety of offenses covered by multiple sections of the Criminal Code Compilation Act 1913 (often known as “the Code”) can be classified as catfishing. Here are a few of them.


Section 409 of the Code defines fraud as an offense in Western Australia.

The clause says that the following actions constitute a crime if one has the aim of deceiving via deception or any other fraudulent means:

  • obtain property from someone;
  • persuade someone to give property to someone else;
  • obtain a benefit for someone, either financial or otherwise;
  • cause a financial or other disadvantage for someone;
  • persuade someone to do something from which they are legally permitted to refrain; or
  • persuade someone to refrain from doing something from which they are legally permitted to refrain.

In addition to fines, the sentences vary from two to ten years in jail.


According to Section 338E of the Code, stalking is defined as “pursuing another person with intent to intimidate that person or a third person.”

“Pursue” comprises:

  • converse with someone on a regular basis, whether directly or indirectly, verbally or otherwise;
  • Continue to follow the individual.
  • Lead the individual to consistently get unwanted items;
  • Watch, go to, or go near someone’s house or place of business;
  • to violate a restraining order or bail requirement by engaging in any of the aforementioned behaviors, whether or not repeatedly.

“Intimidate” means to injure someone physically or psychologically, to arouse anxiety or terror in them, to stop them from doing anything, or to force them to do something from which they have a legal right to refrain.

Penalties include fines and imprisonment for a maximum of eight years.

 Money Laundering

Section 563A of the Code defines property laundering as an offense. It declares that anyone who participates, either directly or indirectly, in a transaction involving money or other property obtained through an offense, or who receives, possesses, conceals, disposes of, or interacts with such property, is guilty of a crime. The maximum term for the perpetrator is 20 years in prison.

Occasionally, a con artist would suggest that victims send laptops or cell phones to a different address. Alternately, they can request that the victim purchase the items and mail them somewhere. Having the victim accept money into their account and transfer it on the catfish’s behalf is another method used in catfishing.

This may occasionally be combined with an offer to split the earnings that will result from the transfer or a pledge to pay back “administrative fees” or “taxes.”

Individuals who have fallen victim to catfishing and accepted or transferred money can have unintentionally committed a crime like money laundering. Additionally, they might have put themselves in jeopardy by unintentionally joining a global criminal organization.

Sexual Offenses

Fraud can be a means for a catfish to have sex. If there are children involved, there are more severe charges. A child under the age of sixteen cannot be obtained for sexual activity or exposed to indecent material via electronic communication, as stated in Section 204B of the Act. A five-year prison sentence is the penalty for the offense if the kid

If the child is under 16, the offense entails a five-year prison sentence; if the youngster is under thirteen, the sentence is ten years.

Additional Offenses

The creation of a fraudulent online persona may result in legal consequences for several offenses, including but not limited to defamation and intellectual property infringement.

Under Section 345 of the Code, criminal defamation is a crime. According to it, publishing defamatory information about another person without a valid reason, knowing it is untrue or not caring whether it is, intending to cause serious harm, or being unaware that it will cause serious harm is illegal and punishable by three years in prison.

In addition, there are instances where catfishing involves breaking intellectual property laws.

For example, a fictitious identity is created by a catfish through the forging of a document or the use of stolen photos that are protected by copyright. 

Pursuing Justice

If the victim of catfishing is able to identify the perpetrator and get in touch with law enforcement to take the case to court, the person may be prosecuted for criminal fraud. In order to look into the situation and locate the person, this frequently calls for the assistance of a service. It is more challenging to pursue justice if the offender is abroad. An international lawyer may be needed to assist with this situation. The issue arises when someone assumes another person’s identity or utilizes their likeness to communicate with them or hold video conferences with them.

It could be necessary for the victim to get in touch with the police and start accumulating proof against the catfisher. This can be accomplished by using recording software, speaking with the person, and gathering further information that the prosecutor or law enforcement officials need to build a case against the person for criminal fraud. The victim’s chances of obtaining justice for the harm done increase with the amount of proof gathered. The impacted person may find out who the person is and how to assist the authorities in charging him or her with criminal fraud by collaborating with the police and a prosecutor. Details may be needed in the event of property or money loss in order to hold the offender accountable.

Legal Defense Against Criminal Fraud

A criminal defense attorney may be necessary to defend against fraud accusations if the individual catfishing only takes the identity or image of another person rather than committing fraud. In the event that no money or property is transferred, the person will need to provide proof of their innocence from a lawyer.


Catfishing is a dishonest technique that can have serious repercussions for the person engaging in it as well as for the gullible people they trick. Even though catfishing may not be specifically forbidden in every state, the acts that are connected to it, such as identity theft, fraud, and emotional distress, can have major legal repercussions. People need to be cautious and aware of the possible risks connected with dishonest practices like catfishing because online connections are still very important in our lives. Building trust and using online safety techniques are crucial components of traversing the digital terrain in order to stop and lessen the effects of such dishonest actions.

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