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Posted on February 22, 2017 by Law Office of Brett A Podolsky
In 2009, Texas lawmakers made it a criminal offense to harass someone online by using false identity. In many states the criminal offense is referred to as cyberstalking. In Texas it’s known as online impersonation.
What is Online Impersonation?
According to Penal Code Section 33.07, it is a felony to use another persona without consent to intentionally intimidate, harm, defraud or threaten anyone. “Persona” refers to using another individual’s identity such as their:
- Domain address
- Phone number
- Any identifying information
The person accused of this crime must use the false identity to do one or more of the following to another individual:
- Send one or multiple messages via a commercial social networking site, Internet, message board or email
- Create a page of a commercial social networking site or Internet
- Post one or multiple messages via the Internet, commercial social networking site
Does the Online Impersonation Crime include Sending Text Messages?
Yes. A separate section of the penal code makes it a felony to send email, electronic mail, instant messages or any similar communication to a victim using another person’s identity. The communication is done:
- Using another individual’s identity without their consent
- With the intent to make the victim reasonable believe they are communicating with that particular individual
- With the intent to defraud anyone
The text message, email or instant message must include another individual’s identifying information such as their phone number, name or domain address.
A Texas Man Charged with Online Impersonation
In 2014, a Texas man was indicted for felony online impersonation. He allegedly used his ex-wife’s name to create a Facebook profile. The criminal complaint alleged he created the profile with the intent to defraud, threaten or harm her. He allegedly posted nude photographs of his ex-wife to the profile then sent friend requests to her family and friends. He was also accused of creating a separate Facebook profile using a man’s name and sending friend requests to her family and friends.
Online impersonation has two crimes. The first crime is taking and using a person’s identification without permission. The second part of the crime is using that “stolen” identification to harass, threat or harm the second victim. Sometimes there can be one victim or multiple victims in an online impersonation offense.
Online Impersonation and Identity Theft are Separate Crimes
Identity theft, called fraudulent possession or use of identifying information, is an offense focused on defrauding people of something of value. The identifying information in this crime refers to using or possessing another individual’s:
- Date of birth
- Fingerprint, voice print, iris image
- Financial account information like routing number, bank number or address
- Social security number or any other government-issue identification numbers
- Telecommunication identifying information or device such as a credit card, account number or personal identification number (PIN)
The information is to obtain use to obtain money, goods, services or transfer funds.
Both online impersonation and fraudulent use of identifying information have something in common. A person committing these crimes must have the intent to defraud or harm the victim. However, a person committing online information has two alleged victims: the individual who has their information used and the individual being harassed or threatened. A person committing fraudulent information usually has one alleged victim.
Fraudulent information can occur online or offline. Online impersonation can only occur online.
The penalty for a fraudulent use of identifying information conviction ranges from a jail felony to a felony in the first degree depending on how many times the information was used. If convicted, a person can spend 180 days in county jail to five to 99 years in prison depending on the number of times the information was used.
Online Impersonation May be a Felony or Misdemeanor
Whether a person is charged with misdemeanor online impersonation or felony online impersonation depends on the type intent a person had. If the accused used another person’s identity to harass, threaten or defraud another individual, it’s a Class A misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor is up to one year in county jail and/or a $4,000 fine.
The accused can be charged with felony in the third degree when they use someone’s identity to solicit an emergency response from first responders. A felony in the third degree is punishable by two to 10 years in prison. However, some people have been charged with a felony for online impersonation not involving personal responders.
Online Impersonation can be Hard to Prove in Texas
Online impersonation is considered a broad crime. In fact, in 2016, a McLennan County judge ruled the online impersonation charge was too broad and overly unconstitutional. The ruling was in response to the Texas man appealing his conviction involving creating a Facebook profile and posting nude pictures of his ex-wife.
The judge ruled the definition of “harm” in the statute was too vague. He conceded it someone’s feelings could be hurt by the online impersonation. However, the statute was an attempt to censor free speech.
Contact Brett A. Podolsky about Your Texas Online Impersonation Charge
You’ve been charged with online impersonation. It’s time to fight back. Brett A. Podolsky understands there’s a lot at stake for you right now. Your future, legal rights, and reputation are at risk of harm because of this criminal charge.
Contact Brett A. Podolsky immediately. He will challenge the elements of the online impersonation charge to weaken the prosecution’s case against you. He’ll also build an aggressive and strong defense to prove your innocence.
Hiring a criminal defense attorney is the most important decision you can make right now. You haven’t been convicted of impersonating someone online to harass, threaten or harm an alleged victim. You have time to clear your name.