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Victim of catfishing
What to do if you had been a victim of catfishing
Our lawyers have prosecuted some of the most complex catfishing cases in the UK and our clients have received substantial damages awards for the pain and suffering they have experienced at the hands of the catfish.
Catfishing is a form of internet fraud. Catfishing happens when someone uses images and information, or a borrowed ID of another person to create a new identity online that is used to manipulated unsuspected victims – sometimes using an individual’s entire identity as their own.
A catfish, is a predator fish that scuttles along the bottom of the ocean feeding on smaller and more vulnerable fish. A human catfish will use another person’s online identity to create a fake account and will then try to form relationships online, over social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. The victim believes that they are communicating with the person whose identity the catfish has stolen. Often the catfish would deceive their victim of catfishing into an online romance or an intimate relationship causing the victim to expose their vulnerabilities to the catfish.
Currently internet catfishing is not a specific criminal offence in the UK although there are indications that it might become a criminal offence in the future. Having said that, catfishing might be illegal if the activity of the catfish falls under a number of other, more general criminal offences and civil wrongdoings.
In many cases catfishing involves fraud. The criminal offence of fraud includes identity theft. Victims can suffer both financial and emotional harm. Catfish often not only exploited their victims for money but they also exploit social relationships as a result of catfishing.
The Fraud Act 2006 includes offences that would apply to anyone who assumes a false or non-existent identity to commit fraud. Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006, sets out the crime of fraud by false representation, which would cover a person pretending to be someone else for the purposes of making a gain for himself or another. Gain, is defined by section 5 of the Fraud Act as gain in money or property but it does not extend to emotional gain, sexual gratification or emotional gain. Because of the narrow definition of “gain” in the Fraud Act 2006, is difficult to prosecution people who commit catfishing online, unless they steal something tangible from their victims.
Often, catfishing also involves the harassment of the victim which means catfish can be prosecuted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Upon a conviction of harassment, the maximum sentence catfish could expect to receive is between 6 months to 10 years imprisonment, depending on whether the caused the victim to fear violence.
When it occurs online, which is nearly always the case, the catfish could be prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act 1998. Under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1998, a catfish could be prosecuted if they send their victim of catfishing an electronic communication which conveys a message which is indecent or grossly offensive, a threat or an information which the sender knows to be false.
On a conviction under the Malicious Communications Act 1998, the maximum sentence that a catfish may receive is between 12 months to 2 years imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the catfishing offence.
Yes. In many cases, as a victim of catfishing you can bring a civil case against a catfish for harassment, for misuse of your private information and for infringement your personal data rights under Data Protection Act 1998 and under GDPR. All the these civil wrongdoing can be brought to court at the same time with the likelihood of the victim being awarded an injunction and a substantial award of damages.
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