Is Catfishing Illegal in California?

Young woman in white chair using computer talking to a catfishing cyber criminal in dark clothes dark room identity theft

You’ve probably heard of “catfishing” before. From TV to movies, catfishing is a hot topic. However, the bottom line is that catfishing can be dangerous. In some cases, it’s even fatal

But despite the obvious dangers, is catfishing a crime in CA? Let’s take a look.

What Is Catfishing?

Catfishing means pretending to be someone else online. The “catfisher” uses false pictures and information to create a fake online identity. They might pretend to be a real person, or they could create a whole new persona. They might even use AI to generate photos. 

Not sure how to spot a catfish? Here are some warning signs:

  • The person won’t meet up, talk on the phone, or video chat. They only use online or text messaging. 
  • They don’t have many followers or friends on social media. 
  • You’ve only chatted a few times but they already claim to love you. 
  • Even though you don’t know this person, they’re asking you for money. 
  • When you search for the person online, you can’t find them. 

If you think you’re dealing with a fake profile, trust your instincts. Don’t talk to anyone you don’t feel comfortable with. Definitely don’t share personal information with them, and if they want money, steer clear.  

Why Do People Catfish?

There’s no one reason why people catfish others. However, there are a few common motives.

  • Revenge: A person might create a fake profile to troll an ex-partner or get revenge on them somehow. 
  • Loneliness: Catfishing might help someone talk to others. The social contact makes them feel less lonely and insecure. 
  • Exploitation: Some individuals use fake profiles to exploit others, whether it’s for money or for sexual purposes. 
  • Insecurity: A person might feel so uncomfortable about their appearance that they pretend to be someone else. 

Catfishing is not always easy to spot. However, it’s very common in the online dating world. In fact, in CA in 2021, romance scams cost unsuspecting victims nearly $184 million

Handcuffs and judges gavel on black keyboard silver laptop cybercrime catfishing

Is Catfishing a Crime in CA?

Is catfishing someone illegal? Surprisingly, no – it’s not. There is no criminal charge for catfishing because it’s not illegal to pretend to be someone else. 

Does this mean there’s no punishment for catfishing? Not necessarily. Catfishing is illegal if there’s an underlying sinister or criminal motive. Meaning, if you catfish and impersonate another person, you could be charged with a related crime.  

When Might Catfishing Be Illegal?

As mentioned, it’s not “illegal” to catfish someone, but the act can lead to criminal charges. Catfishers often commit criminal acts while posing as another person. Here’s when catfishing becomes illegal. 

If a person uses someone else’s pictures or content without permission, the victim might have a copyright or IP claim. 

This isn’t necessarily a criminal charge but it’s a civil offense. So, if the catfisher uses someone else’s intellectual property, they could face a civil lawsuit. 

False Impersonation 

Under California Penal Code 529, it’s a crime to impersonate someone if:

  • You benefit from it; or 
  • You create liabilities or financial obligations for the victim. 

It’s not enough just to pretend to be another person. But is it illegal to catfish for money? It can be, yes. It’s a crime to use someone else’s identity to commit fraud or receive money or benefits.

Harassment, Stalking, and Abuse

It’s a crime in CA to harass or stalk someone, whether online or in person. Computer crimes like cyberstalking can result in criminal charges, so catfishing can be a crime. 

It’s not uncommon for ex-partners to stalk or harass victims using fake profiles. Any form of cyberbullying can lead to criminal charges if it’s threatening or menacing, or causes the victim severe distress. 

Romance Scams

Romance scams are a type of fraud. Catfishers deceive victims into thinking they’re in a romantic relationship. The victim sends the catfisher money for an “emergency” of some kind and then the catfisher disappears. 

Fraud is a crime, so catfishing could result in fraud charges. 


It’s also illegal to use fake profiles for solicitation, or for sexual or child abuse purposes. For example, pretending to be a teenager to convince a minor to send graphic pictures of themselves. 

Depending on the facts, catfishing can lead to serious consequences – and criminal charges. 

Bail for Catfishing Crimes in CA

If you’re arrested on criminal charges, the judge might grant bail. When a judge grants bail, the defendant can leave custody on a promise to attend future court hearings. 

If you can’t afford bail, don’t worry. You or your loved ones can get bail bonds instead.

  • To buy bail bonds, contact the agents at Bail Hotline. We’ll help your loved one post bail as soon as possible. 
  • If you don’t comply with your bail conditions, the bond may be forfeit. You may be arrested and face additional criminal charges.    

Contact our agents to discuss bail bonds in CA.  

Bail for Catfishing Crimes in CA

Have you been arrested for a crime like fraud or identity theft? If you can’t afford bail, then the Bail Hotline can help. Our agents are located across California and we’re here for you or your loved ones 24/7. We offer easy payment plans and there’s no need for collateral. 
Call now or visit a local office to get the help you need.

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