Impersonation online and sexually related civil and criminal offences
Imagine if someone approached you whilst you were mowing the front lawn, said your name as though they knew you well. Then they moved forward to embrace you and you had never seen them before in your life. Being impersonated online is terrifying.
Finding out that you are being impersonated online is terrorising. A traumatised client said that the stranger that approached her on the lawn and said that he was there to have sex with her, as promised. He was waving a piece of paper in his hand and she grabbed it, whilst screaming for help. Her name and address were on there and a social media account name. The man ran.
The police were called, he was found eventually through examination of the social media account and taken in for questioning. He was later released because he was in fact quite innocent. The police suggested that she contacted the social media platform to close the social media account in her name down, which she immediately did.
Social media platforms don't always close down impersonation accounts. If you contact the social media platform, be prepared for a long, often frustrating and unsatisfactory experience.
The social media platform will ask you to identify yourself and ask to see proof of your identity. The emails will go back and forth, over days and even weeks, and all the while your anxiety levels will be hitting the ceiling.
What happened to another one of our clients was that the social media platform was emailing the person that had set up the impersonation online account as well as our client. This could be that the person that received the request wasn't trained in impersonation issues. Or maybe because there were several people working on the shutdown over different shifts. No matter the reason, the online impersonator perpetrator was being alerted to our client trying to close it down. Then they decided to escalate the online harassment and so created another impersonation account.
One other important thing to note is that it can 3 to 4 weeks for the impersonator account to be closed down. Which means that the damage has spread further on the internet and your mental health is affected even more.
Revealing an online impersonator's identity is done with a disclosure order to the website operator. The platform has to reveal who an account belongs to, on receipt of this order. Of course, our client was intensely stressed about this impersonation and doxing discovery and came to us for our support. We had to work quickly in requesting information from the website via a disclosure order. We then achieved removal of the account and images, as fast as possible.
A disclosure order is, in general terms, an order authorising a request for information with which the recipient is obliged to comply. It is usually backed up by penal sanctions for non-compliance. Section 357 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 governs the making of a disclosure order in investigations concerned with proceeds of a crime.
On receipt of a disclosure order, the website operator has to provide the information requested or be susceptible to a fine.
Our client had an idea that it was someone that she used to work with; someone that she had had a fallout with. A disclosure order from us to the social media platform revealed that indeed, it was an ex-colleague. He had set up the account and impersonated her, offering sex to strangers, as a vengeful act.
Being impersonated online is not a crime by itself but it's acts are harassment and revenge porn, which are crimes. There are civil wrongdoings: breach of privacy, defamation and misuse of private information issues possibly. In this instance, the impersonator online had disclosed private information about our client and posted true and false personal details about her publicly.
When a perpetrator of online impersonation sets out to ruin a reputation by posting slanderous statements, we can also make a claim for defamation. If they use the target’s image, even if it is manipulated, we can also pursue the crime of revenge porn. Also, we can pursue possibly breach of copyright, if they have copied and posted any trademarked material.
When someone is impersonating online it is usually with a view to scam and obtain money and offer services or goods and it goes under fraud. In this instance, it was to ruin our client's reputation. The police may say that it is a civil matter and not their problem but as stated earlier, online impersonation is harassment, which is a crime.
Our law firm can help with being impersonated online. As said before, there could be many other elements to the online impersonation, like defamation and breach of privacy issues and certainly harassment and we will work out the complexities and what is involved.
A disclosure order from us, as stated, will reveal the identity of the perpetrator of online harassment. We then track them down and they usually admit to it immediately. Many online impersonators are quick to comply because they do not want to risk exposure to what they have been doing. Of course, exposure would happen if we had to take it further down the legal route and courts. Because we are noted for our successful legal cases, a letter from us often has extremely effective results.
With each case, we remove anything that we can online that has been posted, involving any shared images and links. We can secure substantial damages for our clients, have legal costs paid and obtain apologies. Damages and legal fees paid won't ever take away what happens to our dear clients, of course. There is comfort though, in having some money to cover the days that are lost from not being able to work, due to the stress endured and to cover the therapy that may be needed.
The legally-binding long term documents in place also give great relief, that it won't happen again.