Is Catfishing Illegal in LA? The Laws You Need to Know

What is Catfishing?

Catfishing refers to the creation of a fictitious online persona or fake identity, typically on social media platforms, with malicious intent or for deceptive purposes ( Catfishing involves using someone else’s identity or fabricating an identity completely to lure people into relationships. Common catfishing tactics include stealing photos from other people’s social media accounts or dating profiles to use as their own, making up life stories, and communicating with others under their fictitious identity.

someone using a fake online dating profile

People engage in catfishing for a variety of reasons. Some catfish because they are lonely and want to create relationships that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Others do it as a harmful prank or to take advantage of trust for financial gain or attention. Catfishing can also be used for criminal activities like romance scams or gathering personal information for blackmail. No matter the motivation, catfishing violates privacy and constitutes a form of identity theft and fraud.

In summary, catfishing involves creating a fake online identity to deceive others, often for malicious purposes. It is a common problem in online dating, social media, and other platforms where people interact without meeting face-to-face.

Motivations Behind Catfishing

There are various psychological motivations that drive people to engage in catfishing. Some of the most common include:


Feeling lonely and isolated can motivate some people to create a fake online identity in order to find connections and relationships. Catfishing provides a way to fulfill unmet social needs and gain validation from others (


Some people catfish simply because they are bored and find it entertaining to live an alternate life online. Pretending to be someone else can provide excitement or escapism from mundane realities (


In some cases, catfishing is used as a means of getting revenge on someone by manipulating their emotions or relationships. People may catfish to trick someone as payback for being hurt or rejected.

Financial Gain

Catfishing can also be a way to attain money or gifts from unsuspecting victims who believe they are in a relationship with the fictional online identity.

Legality of Catfishing

Catfishing is not explicitly illegal under federal law in the United States. However, some states have laws against internet impersonation, cyberbullying and online harassment that may apply in certain catfishing cases.

the california state flag with a legal scale

In California, the criminal offense of impersonation applies if someone poses as another actual person online or through other electronic means with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud the person being impersonated or any other third party. This law could potentially be used to prosecute catfishing in some situations (source).

If the catfisher’s actions rise to the level of criminal stalking, harassment, fraud or identity theft, they could face charges under those statutes. Overall, catfishing itself is not strictly illegal, but certain deceitful acts, grooming of minors, financial fraud or threats associated with catfishing may be prosecuted under other laws.

California Catfishing Laws

California has laws that specifically address catfishing and online impersonation. In 2011, California enacted Penal Code Section 528.5 which makes it illegal for a person to knowingly and without consent impersonate another actual person through or on an Internet website or by other electronic means. This includes creating social media profiles or dating site profiles using someone else’s name, photos, or other personal identifying information.

According to California Penal Code Section 528.5, catfishing and online impersonation are misdemeanor offenses. A first offense can result in up to 1 year in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Subsequent offenses may result in imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, or a fine of up to $10,000, or both imprisonment and fine. The law also allows victims to file civil lawsuits against their impersonators.

While catfishing itself may not always cause quantifiable damages, California courts have found online impersonators liable when their actions resulted in harm such as reputational damages, lost business opportunities, and emotional distress. The penalties tend to increase when the catfishing involves fraud, threats, or significantly disrupts the victim’s life and well-being.

Los Angeles Catfishing Cases

In November 2022, a tragic catfishing case unfolded in Riverside, California, which is part of the Greater Los Angeles area. According to reports, Austin Lee Edwards, a 28-year-old Virginia police officer, met a teenage girl online through deception and catfishing. He gained her trust by pretending to be a teenager himself. Edwards then traveled across the country to Riverside, where he murdered the girl’s mother and grandparents and set fire to their home. The girl was rescued and Edwards died during a shootout with police while trying to flee with the girl.

police lights at a crime scene

In another Los Angeles-area catfishing case in 2020, a man named Robert Davies was charged with contacting a minor to commit a felony. Davies, a high-ranking police officer in Santa Ana, had posed as a 17-year-old boy online to solicit sexually explicit photos from a 14-year-old girl in Washington state. After obtaining the photos, Davies continued the deception until the police in Washington traced the communications back to him. While Davies did not physically harm the victim, he abused his authority as a police officer and violated the victim’s privacy and trust.

These cases highlight how catfishing, even when it does not lead to physical violence, can still severely damage victims and betray their trust. The outcomes demonstrate the legal consequences catfishers may face once their deceptive actions are uncovered by authorities.

Dangers of Catfishing

Catfishing can lead to serious emotional, financial, and reputational consequences for the victims. Some of the main dangers include:

someone crying from emotional trauma

Emotional Trauma

Being catfished can cause significant emotional trauma and psychological harm. Victims often feel betrayed and violated when they discover the person they thought they knew does not actually exist. This can lead to feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem (BulliesOut).

Financial Fraud

Catfishers may exploit their victims financially, asking for money for various untrue hardships or emergencies. This type of fraud has led many catfishing victims into debt or financial ruin. Estimates indicate victims lose an average of $15,000 from catfishing schemes (ConnectSafely).

Reputational Damage

Having an online relationship with a fabricated identity can be humiliating if made public. Catfishers often record or screenshot conversations which can later be used to blackmail victims. The catfisher may reveal details about the relationship online or to the victim’s friends and family. This can harm reputations, relationships, and careers (CyberRights).

How to Avoid Being Catfished

There are several steps you can take to avoid being catfished:

Look for red flags in their profile and behavior, such as very limited photos, excuses for not video chatting, inconsistencies in their story, etc. According to Malwarebytes, “If someone seems too good to be true online, they probably are.”

Reverse image search any photos they send you. As PCMag recommends, “Plug the image into a reverse image search like Google Images to see if it pops up elsewhere online.” If the photos are stock images or belong to someone else, it’s a major red flag for catfishing.

Ask probing questions and look for inconsistencies. Talk to them on video chat if possible. According to Seers, “Asking probing questions can reveal cracks in their story” and catch them in lies.

What to Do If You Are Catfished

If you discover that you have fallen victim to a catfish, it is important to take action right away to protect yourself. Here are some steps to take:

First, cease all contact with the catfish immediately. Do not respond to any further messages or attempts by them to communicate with you. Cut off all contact on social media, messaging apps, email, etc. Trying to engage with the catfish further may encourage them to continue the deception or attempt to manipulate you.

Next, report the catfish to the appropriate authorities if they have committed any crimes. For example, if they defrauded you financially, stole your identity, or are stalking or harassing you, file reports with your local police and the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at Provide as much evidence as possible.

You should also report the fake profiles used by the catfish to the social media platforms and websites they are on. Most sites have options to flag fake accounts for review.

Finally, seek support from friends, family or professionals. Being catfished can be an emotionally difficult experience. Having trusted people to talk to can help you process what happened and avoid being victimized again. Consider speaking to a counselor or therapist if you need additional help.

With the right precautions, you can minimize the damage from a catfishing scam and avoid repeating the experience. Act swiftly to stop communication, report the catfish through official channels, and get the assistance you need to heal and move forward.

How to Stop Catfishing

If you engage in catfishing, it’s important to recognize it as an unhealthy behavior and take steps to stop. Here are some tips:

a person deleting their fake social media profiles

– Seek counseling or therapy. Speaking with a mental health professional can help you uncover the root causes of catfishing and develop strategies to build self-esteem, empathy, and real connections with others. According to experts on Reddit, therapy provides a safe space to understand your motivations without judgment.

– Build real relationships. Take small steps to be authentic in your daily life and forge genuine bonds. Let people get to know the real you. Opening up incrementally can help end the catfishing cycle. As one former catfisher said: “Give them the possibility to be angry, give them space to be sad.”

– Find healthy hobbies. Pick up hobbies that fulfill you in positive ways, such as exercise, art, or community service. Hobbies can reduce loneliness and boost self-worth apart from any online persona. Focus this new energy into developing true aspects of your identity.

Catfishing Resources

If you or someone you know has been affected by catfishing, there are resources available to help provide support, legal assistance, and ways to move forward.

The Cybersmile Foundation offers a help hotline for victims of catfishing and online abuse. They have trained professionals who can provide emotional support and practical advice.

Support groups like Survivors of Catfishing on Facebook allow victims to share their experiences and find solidarity with others who have gone through similar situations. Connecting with fellow survivors can help reduce feelings of isolation.

For legal assistance, organizations like the Identity Theft Resource Center have guides on online impersonation laws and how to report fake accounts to social media platforms and law enforcement. Consulting a lawyer may also be wise if your reputation or finances have been damaged.

While being catfished can be traumatic, there are ways to heal and move forward. With time, support, and taking steps to protect yourself online, victims can regain their confidence after an unfortunate catfishing experience.

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