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Impersonation online

Impersonation is one of the most common forms of harassment on the internet

If you have discovered that you are the victim of impersonation online, where an internet user has created a fake profile pretending to be you, with the intent to cause you distress, this might amount to harassment.

Why impersonation is a form of harassment

Is online impersonation a criminal offence

Is impersonation online also defamation

Is impersonation the same as misuse of private information

What to do if you are impersonated online

How to stop online impersonation

Why impersonation is a form of harassment

If Impersonation online harassment is happening to you, you are most likely feeling traumatised and out of control. The impact of being a target of any type of harassment online can feel devastating. Impersonation online may involve revenge porn, defamatory statements, non-consensual publication of images and videos and often take place as part of a bigger social media campaign of harassment.

Harassment by impersonation can happen either by sending out threatening or abusive messages to others in your name, encouraging others to join them in the harassment campaign, or by encouraging contacts known to you to read the derogatory or threatening statements in order to harass you further. In some cases, the only purpose of the impersonator is for you to know that you are being impersonated online and they might not care about contacting other people. It is the sheer knowledge that you are being impersonated that could cause you to feel harassed.  Whichever form the online impersonation takes, there is a form of online impersonation which is aimed to, at least initially, deceive people to believe that it is you behind the messages. 

Is online impersonation a criminal offence

In the United Kingdom, it is not unlawful to impersonate someone online. The only exception to the rule is if you impersonate a police officer or a solicitor. However, it is often difficult for impersonation online to occur without the impersonating person committing another criminal or civil offence such as harassment, fraud or breach of Privacy or misuse of private information. 

Can impersonation online also be defamation 

Impersonation online could, in addition to harassment, also be defamation. If an impersonator makes statements that are false in relation to the person impersonated, or give a false impression of them which is derogatory, they will be committing the wrongdoing of defamation. If the impersonator  exposes their victim to hatred, contempt or ridicule or causes them to be shunned or avoided, then it may amount to defamation as well as harassment.

Is impersonation the same as misuse of private information

Impersonation online often has an element of the civil wrongdoing of the misuse of private information. If for example, the impersonator is using your image or your name, this could potentially amount to the misuse of private information.

Misuse of private information is a similar wrongdoing as breach of privacy.  Breach of privacy is likely to occur when as a result of the impersonation, the impersonator gains confidential or private information such as personal details, details of one's personal sex life or details events that otherwise the person giving out the information would have rather not give.

Each occurrence where there is a gain of private information as a result of impersonation, would give rise to a separate claim for breach of privacy. If an impersonation online also contains true or alleged private information about the victim, about their relationship status, alleged religious views, alleged political views, alleged sexual orientation, alleged religious views or other disclosure of private information, the impersonation  may also amount to the tort of misuse of private information and defamation as well as harassment.

What to do if you are impersonated online

Being impersonated online can seriously damage someone's reputation and can be extremely upsetting and destructive to the victim, psychologically and physically. You can contact any social media sites and try and get them to shut the profile of the impersonation online down. You can also contact the police but this is unlikely to produce any meaningful outcome because the police is unlikely to arrest anyone or even seriously investigate the case. Your report to the police is only likely to be useful for statistical purposes. 

How to stop online impersonation

How you stop online impersonation would depend on the specific facts of your case. There is often little point in asking your online impersonator to stop impersonating you. They obviously do what they do to upset you. It is not advisable for anyone who is being harassed online to make contact with the person harassing them. If you report the impersonation to the police, it is likely that the police will be able to do very little to assist you. However, do try to report the impersonation and at least obtain a crime reference number from the police. 

There are lawyers who specialise in  helping people who have been harassed online. There are not that many of them but a law firm that takes on a case of impersonation online needs to make sure they have the relevant skill, experience and the intimate knowledge that is required to see a case through. 

We know that impersonation online is not restricted to fake profiles and can often escalate into other online harassment predicaments with various complexities. Make sure that the law firm that supports you is the right firm for you and that it has dealt with cases like yours before.

Get in touch today for more information, advice and support.

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