In many cases, pretending to be someone else online is illegal. This is true in California when someone does so with the intent to defraud, harm, intimidate or threat.
So, here is a look at some examples where impersonation could lead to someone getting in legal trouble.
Pretending to be a relative to get money
Suppose Bob gets an email that purports to be from his cousin, Mary. Mary claims to have gone on a trip, had her wallet stolen and needs Bob to wire her $1,000 so she can get back home. When it is someone else pretending to be Mary with the intent of getting money from Bob under these false premises, this is illegal.
Pretending to be someone in order to threaten
Say that Jane has a challenging relationship with her ex-husband, James. One day, she gets an email from someone purporting to be James, and it lays out a litany of threats. The emails keep coming, and Jane is scared. She contacts the police and turns over the evidence of harassment and threats.
Pretending to be an official to get information
Jose is a victim of a robbery, with his case pending. The person who committed the crime wants to find out how much Jose saw of him or her, and emails Jose and pretends to be a detective following up with the case.
The examples above are just three possible scenarios in which online impersonation can occur illegally. That type of activity can be bad enough in itself, but what happens sometimes is that people end up falsely accused. For example, take the real James in scenario two. He may find it difficult to prove he did not send these emails and would need the help of an attorney. Similarly, someone could get accused of impersonating someone else’s relative and have no idea what is going on. Someone could have hacked into computer and bank accounts.
Thus, some impersonation cases have many layers and can be complex to unravel.