Sometimes, the most benign actions can lead to serious consequences. Heading online to play a practical joke on someone may result in humor…or something much worse.

In Wisconsin, impersonating someone or lying about your identity to entice another to engage with you is not illegal yet. However, this does not mean it is completely innocent. What is catfishing, and why do many states consider it illegal?

The basics of catfishing

Catfishing involves duping someone into entering an online relationship over false pretenses. For example, you may think a friend of yours is an easy mark for this type of thing since he is an introvert. You and your friends create a fake profile on Facebook or Twitter and start getting your friend to interact. Once you have your friend on the “hook,” you may reveal the joke.

Catfishing turns serious

Cybercriminals create extensive and believable online profiles all for the purposes of baiting people into fake relationships. Depending on how deep the ruse runs, the activity itself may turn into a jail sentence.

Fraud: The most common charge associated with catfishing as a crime is fraud. Typically, it occurs when money exchanges hands under false pretenses. For example, the person with the fake profile may ask the target for money to help him or her out of a serious issue. Depending on the totality of the situation, it could result in a fraud charge.

Emotional distress: As of now, Wisconsin does not have any legal repercussions for distress as a result of catfishing. However, some states, like New York and California, do have ramifications, depending on the severity of the issue.

Stalking: The courts take stalking charges seriously. Whether you will face this charge largely depends on the methods and means by which the catfishing occurs.

Catfishing is one of the most commonly perpetrated internet ruses. The lengths to which the pursuer goes and the state in which he or she lives determine if the act is criminal.