The Offense of Online Impersonation: A New Kind of Identity Theft

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Home / The Offense of Online Impersonation: A New Kind of Identity Theft

Committing crimes on the Internet is easy to do. Photo credit: Ed Yourdon

In the past few years, several jurisdictions have passed laws to deal specifically with crimes committed on the Internet.

While the reason for these laws is to ensure penal statutes catch up with modern day technology, some critics say laws covering these new offenses are not necessary; the prohibited conduct is already illegal under existing legislation.

Texas Woman Creates False Ad on Craigslist

The following is a good example of whether specific laws are necessary, although there are countless others.

In early November 2012, a woman went to police in Pasedena, Texas and reported she received several telephone calls from men attempting to buy sex from her. When she asked one of the callers how he obtained her number, he told her it was on an ad posted on Craigslist.

An ensuing investigation led police to Dawn Christy Rash, 35. The woman who went to the police is the ex-girlfriend of Rash’s husband and she allegedly cheated on him when they were together. Rash allegedly admitted posting the ad and told officers she did it as a “joke.”

Rash could have been charged with identity theft, but instead she was charged with one count of online impersonation. While online harassment has been a crime in Texas since 2009, the online impersonation offense became effective on September 1, 2011.

Under section 33.07 of the Texas Penal Code, it is an offense to create a webpage or send an email or an instant message on the Internet using the name or domain name of another person with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten another person or persons. It is not against the law to use someone else’s name if the other person consents to their name being used. In Texas, online impersonation is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Other States Have Passed Similar Laws

Texas is not unique in having online impersonation laws. California enacted such a law although the crime in that state is a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Committing online impersonation can result in a maximum fine of $1,000 or up to a year in jail.

California State Senator Joe Simitian, who drafted the law, said he was inspired in part by the case of Lori Drew. The Mississippi woman created a MySpace account in the name of a young boy; she then used the account to torment a 13-year-old girl who was one of her daughter’s classmates. The young victim ended up killing herself.

Other states, including Mississippi, Hawaii and Louisiana, have passed similar laws while other states such as Pennsylvania, are considering doing so. But the real issue is, are these laws really necessary?

Click to Read Page Two: Existing Laws Cover Impugned Acts

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