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Is Catfishing Illegal? Everything You Need to Know

Brandon Way - May 18, 2024

white mask, mouse, and keyboard on wooden table

We’ve all heard the tale before: someone falls in love with someone online or meets someone online, but when they meet them, the person turns out to be fake or withholding information. For example, someone might use someone else’s picture on their social media profile to convince people that they look different. 

In the past, catfishing was usually used for romance or to impersonate someone else. However, catfishing is associated with more complex crimes now, and in some cases, catfishing can even be illegal. 

That said, there are some cases where catfishing is perfectly legal, so it’s important to understand what transforms catfishing from an act of cowardice or pranking into something more sinister. Fortunately, we’re here to help. Read on to learn more about the legality of catfishing.

What Is a Catfish?

Before we jump right into the legality of catfishing, it’s important to know what a catfish is. A catfish is someone who is pretending to be someone else, usually online. It’s a common practice on dating platforms and social media. However, some people may also catfish over the phone. Many catfish use similar strategies, so learning the warning signs of a catfish is possible if you familiarize yourself with their methods. 

Some common tactics a catfish may use include giving you a fake name, phone number, or profile. However, the biggest red flag is that the person will take an interest in you rapidly; we’re talking about falling in love or requesting private information fast.

Is Catfishing Illegal? 

Catfishing itself is not illegal, and you can make an account claiming to be anyone you want. That said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t illegal activities that catfishing often leads to. In fact, people usually catfish people to steal money, information, or even someone’s identity. Some common schemes include financial theft, cyberstalking, or identity fraud. 

That said, some catfishing activities aren’t illegal. For example, some people might take up catfishing because they’re scared to reveal their identity during the dating process – this used to be one of the most common reasons for catfishing.

What Crimes Are Associated with Catfishing?

Catfishing isn’t illegal on its own, so something else has to be happening behind the scenes for catfishing to be illegal. While there is a grey area for some online activities, some behaviors are always criminal. We cover some of the most common crimes associated with catfishing below.

Online Dating Scams

One of the biggest crimes that’s associated with catfishing is a romance scam. These online dating scams usually include a scammer who pretends to be someone else to convince another person to fall in love with them. Once the person falls for them, the scammer will start to request money or even blackmail them if illicit content is shared between them. 

Always be on guard when meeting people online who almost instantly fall in love with you. Also, if it sounds too good to be true there’s a good chance that it is. 


Harassment is another possible legal problem that people may face when it comes to catfishing. People who stalk or harass others can end up breaking the law because it’s illegal to harass others and cause them distress. 

Typically, harassment involves making someone feel emotionally distressed, scared, or uncomfortable. For this reason. According to US law, harassment becomes illegal when it happens across social media, state lines, or over the phone. 


Catfishing becomes illegal when fraud is involved. When someone wants to steal someone’s identity or use someone’s identity to commit a crime it becomes fraud. Fraud is a crime in the United States and using someone’s identity that’s not yours can result in being charged with fraud, especially if they’re using it to convince you to give them money or your identity. 

Catfishers may also try to steal your identity or get you to open phishing links.

How to Discover a Catfish

Discovering a catfish is one of the most important things you can do for your online safety, especially if they’re asking for something from you. In fact, you should verify everyone’s identity if you meet them online and plan to meet with them in person for the first time. 

While you can resort to Google or hiring an expensive private investigator, we have a handy people search tool you can use to verify someone’s identity.

Run a Search with CheckPeople.com 

The best way to discover a catfish is to run a search with CheckPeople.com. Our people search tool is easy to use and we can help you view someone’s public records, which can reveal their identity. 

For example, if someone provides you with a name, you can enter their name into our search tool to see if what they told you about themselves matches what you find. If someone’s name doesn’t exist or the information isn’t adding up, you’ll know you’re dealing with a catfish.

Our tools also aren’t limited and we offer multiple ways to verify someone’s identity. Therefore, even if you don’t have someone’s real name you can still run a search with us if you use their address or phone number. 

Aside from dealing with a catfish, our people search tools will keep you safe online. They can help you check someone’s background information, criminal records, sex offender status, and much more. This can help you determine if meeting with someone is worth your time before you put yourself out there.

Hire a Private Investigator

If you’re unsure about someone’s intentions you can always hire a private investigator (PI). While the cost is high, hiring a PI can help you determine if someone is catfishing you. Plus, they will do all of the dirty work for you. This means you don’t have to spend time running searches online or focus on getting a catfish to admit a mistake. Instead, you just pay around $50 to $100 per hour to have the PI do all of this for you. 

While that fee may be worth it for some people, it’s not worth it for others. In fact, we only recommend going this route if you don’t have any luck using one of our people search tools. 

Also, bringing a PI into the hunt for a catfish can complicate things, especially if the person turns out to not be a catfish. For example, if you’re talking to someone on an online dating platform there’s a chance that bringing in someone else can scare them or make them not want to continue the conversation with you. 

Look for Inconsistencies

One of the best ways to identify a catfish is to search for inconsistencies in their story or across their social media platforms. For example, if you met someone on Facebook, check to see if they have an Instagram account that matches their identity. 

You can also look for them on other platforms including LinkedIn, X (formerly Twitter), and Snapchat. When you search for them, check to see if they have these profiles, and if they don’t, that can be a red flag. You should also look for slight inconsistencies across the platforms.

While you can leverage social media accounts, try and speak with them over the phone if you’ve only ever talked through text or on dating profiles. In some cases, hearing their voice might be enough to figure out that something is off. Also, if people don’t want to share this information with you there’s a good chance that they’re a catfish. So, you can always try and lure them out the old-fashioned way. While you can go this route, it’s safer to use one of our people search tools instead. Plus, you don’t have to waste your time speaking with a possible catfish.

Discover any Catfish with CheckPeople.com 

Catfish are the worst. They try to deceive you, take money from you, or mess with your heartstrings. Regardless of why you think you’re being catfished, you should always take measures to discover their true identity to avoid falling prey to their antics. 

The good news is that CheckPeople.com makes it easy to discover any catfish if you know their name, phone number, or address. All you have to do is enter their information into our search tool to get started.

Unfortunately, catfishing isn’t illegal unless it’s tied to a specific crime, so your best defense is being prepared. The good news is that if you know who a catfish is you can avoid falling into their trap or giving them information you don’t want to give them.

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