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  • Writer's pictureDurham Pro Bono Blog

Should Catfishing be Criminalised in the UK?

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.

A very popular phenomenon across the world is the use of online dating apps. Online dating apps have become an integrated part of our lives and are widely used in society. According to the Global Web Index, 41% of people who are single have used online dating apps or sites within the past month.[1]

Embracing love online is undoubtedly a romantic notion, however, it can become nightmarish when facing a catfisher.

Catfishing occurs where a person uses a fake identity from another person’s online profile. This practice has been employed on dating apps, especially for financial gain or sexual abuse. The perpetrator tends to use a more appealing photo as their profile picture before engaging in intimate conversation with another online user. From time to time, the perpetrator may use manipulative ploys to extort benefits from the victim.

Under the current UK law, catfishing is not inherently illegal. However, the instigator is likely to engage in a series of illegal activities when catfishing. This may include the infringement of intellectual property (copyright violations when using another person’s material), defamation (a false spoken or written expression that is deemed unjustly harmful to the reputation of an individual), sexual violations or fraud.

However, it is challenging to prosecute catfishing activities in practice. For instance, if the perpetrator does not originate from the same country as the victim, this may lead to cross-border difficulties in identifying the culprit. Furthermore, IP tracking may be difficult as anonymity is easily gained online.

In order to address this problem, the act of catfishing should be criminalised.

There is a need to deter such behaviour, especially in light of the devastating impact it can have on victims.

The chief executive of Get Safe Online, Tony Neate, has recognised that the effects of catfishing on the victim can lead to depression and even suicide[2]. Thus, legislation is needed to criminalise catfishing. An example has already been set out in the United States, which implemented the Catfishing Liability Act 2016, to impose an injunction on people who are using another person’s names, photographs or voices to create a fake identity online. The new legislation could be incorporated into the Fraud Act 2006 to target online fraudsters. It could also be incorporated into the Communications Act 2003.

Secondly, there might be a strong argument for online dating sites to adjust their terms of service with regard to data protection, and for data protection regulations to permit this to a reasonable extent. Wider discretion provided to site administrators to monitor suspicious accounts and take action can help safeguard against catfishing. Last but not least, large dating sites, such as Tinder and Bumble, should include compulsory verification processes to prevent catfishers from creating false identities to begin with.

It may be easy to swipe right, but not as easy as to meet your Mr or Mrs Right. It is important to safeguard against catfishing activities to protect the safety of other online users.

Donald Ma

Feature Writer

Technology and Media


[1] Erik Winther Paisley, ‘What to Know about the Online Dating Landscape in 2018’(GlobalWebIndex, 16 Oct 2018) <> accessed 13 February 2020

[2] Cherry Wilson, ‘Should ‘catfishing’ be made illegal?’(BBC News, 24 Feb 2017) <> accessed 13 February 2020

Adam Lusher, ‘MPs urged to pass law against online ‘catfish’ imposters tricking women into sex’ (Independent, 17 Jul 2017) <> accessed 12 February 2020

Rebecca Spellman, Lauren Ferri, ‘Shattered parents of fun-loving hairdresser suspected of taking her own life after discovering her online lover was a hoax call for 'catfishing' to be made a crime’ (Daily Mail, 9 Feb 2020) <> accessed 14 February 2020

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