Online Impersonation

The internet has allowed us to express ourselves in a variety of ways thanks to the multitude of social media sites available to choose from. However, this freedom can sometimes be tempting for users to pretend to be a someone else. In some cases, these users will gather identifying information about another person and impersonate them online to either defame their character, humiliate them, try to defraud others, or any other myriad of possible reasons.

In 2009 the state of Texas decided to take a stand against online impersonation by making it illegal and implementing harsh penalties for the crime. The legislature then took an even another step to expand the definition of online impersonation by including impersonation on social networking sites as well as electronic messaging programs. That means even making a fake profile as a joke could possibly land you with online impersonation charges.

If you or someone you know has been charged with online impersonation, it’s crucial you secure legal counsel as soon as possible.

Houston Online Impersonation Attorney in Texas

Most offenders convicted of online impersonation weren’t even aware it was a crime before they were charged. In fact, the majority of online impersonators commit the act because they’re trying to have some harmless fun. Unfortunately, the Texas Penal Code doesn’t see online impersonation as so benign as a conviction could land you in jail for up to 12 months.

If you or someone you know has been charged with online impersonation, it’s vital you contact The Benken Law Firm. Brian Benken has been practicing criminal law in Harris and surrounding counties for over 30 years with his practice being devoted exclusively to criminal defense. He understands what it takes to build a strong argument for defense and has the right skills and resources to make it happen for you. Set up you first consultation free of charge by calling The Benken Law Firm at (713) 223 - 4051.

The Benken Law Firm accepts clients throughout the greater Harris County and Houston area including Braeswood Place, Downtown Houston, Sunnyside and The Heights.

Overview of Online Impersonation Charges in TX

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Online Impersonation Laws in Texas

As computer and the internet develops, so does the Texas legislature. In 2009, the state of Texas decided to address the ongoing issue of online impersonation by making it a punishable offense. It was expanded even further in 2011 to include social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or YouTube as it became easier and easier to impersonate other people with little consequence.

Online impersonation can be found under the Texas Penal Code Section 33.07, which states a person is guilty of the online impersonation if they do any of the following intentionally and/or knowingly to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten the victim.

  • Use their name or persona to:
    • Create a web page or profile on a commercial social networking site or other Internet site;
    • Post or send one or more messages on or through a commercial social networking site or other Internet site, other than through an electronic mail program or message board program.

Sending electronic messages under another person’s name is also considered online impersonation. Under Texas law a person is also guilty of online impersonation if they instant message, text message, electronically message or any other similar communication and references a name, phone number, domain address or identifying information of another person. The messages must be:

  • Sent out without the alleged victim’s consent; or
  • With the intent to cause a recipient of the communication to reasonably believe that the other person authorized and transmitted the communication; AND
  • The intent of the offender was to harm or defraud the alleged victim

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Examples of Illegal Online Impersonation in Texas

It’s important you have a thorough understanding of the range in online impersonation laws and the many situations it can apply to. A person can commit online impersonation in various ways, but all share the common theme of using Internet access or electronic communication to assume the identity of another person without their consent. However, the act is only criminal if the offender had some sort of intent to harm the victim. The victim doesn’t need to be harmed physically from the online impersonation either. Blows to a person’s character such as defamation or extreme embarrassment would also be classified as a type of harm.

Examples of online impersonation include the following:

  • Posting an ad on Craigslist and offering to sell another person’s car whilst providing the alleged victim’s address and contact information;
  • Creating a fake website to impersonate another person’s business and using that site to post sensitive and identifying information about the business owner;
  • Creating a fake Facebook account for an ex-partner and posting identifying information of that person without their consent;
  • Create a fake Skype profile impersonating someone else and messaging other users pretending to be that person

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Penalties for Online Impersonation in the U.S

It’s true that impersonating another person online is typically a nonviolent crime. However, that doesn’t mean the penalties for online impersonation are light. If you’ve been convicted of online impersonation, your penalties will depend on the facts of the case. Sending someone’s identifying information over electronic mail (e-mail), instant message (IM), or a text message without their consent is a class A misdemeanor.

The maximum sentence a person can receive for a class A misdemeanor includes:

  • Up to 12 months in jail; and
  • A fine of up to $4,000

Creating a profile or web page on a social networking site or messaging as another person on a social networking or other similar type of website is a third-degree felony. The maximum punishment a person can receive for a third-degree felony includes:

  • Up to 10 years in prison; and
  • A fine of up to $10,000

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Additional Resources

Identity Theft Info Guide | Texas DPS–  Visit the official website for Texas Department of public Safety or DPS to learn more about their resources for people who have had their identity stolen. Access the site to read what to do if you’ve become a victim of identity theft, how to report check fraud, prevention tips to protect your identity and the three main credit reporting agencies.

Online Impersonation Laws in Texas – Visit the official website for the Texas Statutory Laws to read up on their Offenses Against Property chapter regarding online impersonation and other related crimes. Access the site to review the elements of the crime, admissible defenses and other related internet crimes.

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Computer Crimes Attorney in Houston, Texas

If you or someone you know has been charged with online impersonation, it’s imperative you seek a criminal defense attorney to assist you. We recommend you turn to Brain Benken of The Benken Law Firm for experienced and skilled legal representation. His decades of practice alongside his incredible dedication to his clients has helped hundreds of Texans avoid jail and prison time.

Get in contact with attorney Brian Benken of The Benken Law Firm by calling (713) 223 - 4051. Your first consultation is free and during the meeting internet crimes attorney Brian Benken will review the facts of your case. He will then answer any possible legal questions you may have and begin charting out a defense plan immediately. The Benken Law Firm accepts clients throughout the greater Harris County and Houston area including Houston Heights, Braeswood Place, Meyerland and Bellaire.

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(713) 223 - 4051
Benken Law