Online Impersonation: The Little Brother of Identity Theft

Online Impersonation and Identity Theft in Texas

As more and more people spend an increasing amount of time connected to the Internet, they are placing more of their identifying information online. These days, anyone can be connected to social media and online forums 24/7. This has led to an increase in occurrences of online impersonation and identity theft. Although these two acts are somewhat related, they are distinct types of behavior and they are both criminal offenses.

There are specific laws in Texas that are used to prosecute people who engage in these activities. The severity of the punishments for these offenses can range from relatively minor to extremely harsh.

What is Online Impersonation?

According to Section 33.07 of the Texas Penal Code, the offense of online impersonation is defined as an act that includes using the name, persona or online identity of another person in order to harass, intimidate or otherwise threaten any person. For example, this could involve logging into another person’s social media account in order to post threats of violence towards another person.

Under the law, it does not matter if the person being threatened is the owner of the stolen account. It is also an offense to set up a website or social media page under another person’s name or pretend to be another person in an email or text message if the intent is to harm or defraud another person. The bottom line is, posing as someone else online without that person’s consent is a criminal offense.

This is a third degree felony crime, punishable by:

  • Up to ten years in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • A ban from using electronic devices with Internet access
Online Impersonation Scenarios

To understand this law, it’s important to realize all the situations in which it applies. Briefly put, online impersonation includes any action which uses Internet access or electronic communication to assume the identity of another person.

The major point is that, for this action to qualify as a criminal act, the intent of the person committing the action has to be an intent to cause harm. This doesn’t necessarily include actual physical harm. It can include causing harm to a person’s character, defamation or extreme embarrassment. Harm can also refer to harassment, threatening messages or inappropriate sexual advances.

For example, if John steals his friend’s cell phone and then sends sexually explicit emails and text messages to his friend’s girlfriend, he may be guilty of online harassment. However, this is where the other main component of this crime comes in: consent.

If John and his friend are playing a prank and his friend gives consent for the explicit messages, they may be immature and inappropriate, but they may not necessarily be guilty of a crime.

Impersonation vs. Identity Theft

Identity theft is a somewhat similar offense but it usually involves a more serious breach of the law. In most cases, impersonation occurs in an attempt to harass, threaten or intimidate. Identity theft involves the actual misappropriation of sensitive identification information, like Social Security numbers or credit card information, in order to commit fraud.

For example, online impersonation can involve posting messages under another person’s name. Identity theft will typically involve using another person’s identifying information to make purchases or bank withdrawals. As such, identity theft is usually prosecuted much more severely and can lead to serious time in prison.

Anyone who has been accused of online impersonation can consult with an attorney to try to build a criminal defense. For example, they could claim that they had consent to use another person’s identity or that they had no intent to cause harm. If this is successful, the charges may be reduced or dropped entirely.

Have you or someone you know be charged with online impersonation? You need a tough lawyer who can get results. Contact The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp today and get help at (713) 868-6100.