Utah tests the waters in turning online catfishing into a criminal act

Pretending to be someone you’re not online could, one day, land you in hot water.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The State of Utah is considering changes to the law that will make online impersonation a criminal offense. 

As reported by Fox 13, lawmakers in the US state proposed a series of bills this week tackling Internet security and privacy. The main submission, House Bill 80, suggests amendments to existing data privacy laws including an "affirmative defense" for companies caught up in data breaches.

However, House Bill 239, introduced by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, could be of more relevance to the general public if accepted into law., and could become a blueprint for other states to follow This proposed legislation tackles online impersonation, also known as catfishing, and seeks to make these activities criminal.

Titled, "Online Impersonation Prohibition," the bill proposes legal consequences for people that "use the name or persona of an individual" without consent. 

This could include creating a fake social media account or website, posting or sending messages, the use of existing photos and information belonging to someone else, and other activities that encourage "reasonable belief" in a recipient that the user is genuine. 

Furthermore, Lisonbee's bill suggests that catfishing with the "intent to harm or defraud an individual" should not be tolerated. It appears that depending on the severity of the infraction, catfishing could be seen as a misdemeanor -- or go up to a third-degree felony. 

The proposed bill is not gunning for anonymous accounts or profiles that create an entirely new person based on stolen photos or fake information. Instead, it focuses on cases where an individual is conducting what could be argued to be a form of identity theft.

This could be in order to harass someone, or in the corporate world, could be applied to when threat actors perform social engineering to impersonate company employees or executives -- with the overall goal of obtaining information and conducting further cyberattacks, such as in Business Email Compromise (BEC) campaigns. 

Catfishing takes many forms. In the dating world, this usually means that a fake profile has been created by stealing someone's photos, and the user masquerades as that person -- potentially using a completely different name, location, and more. 

These activities can be nothing more than a response to boredom -- as damaging as they can be -- or they may be conducted for fraudulent purposes, including financial theft, such as in cases of romance scams

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