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Pretending to be someone you’re not can get you into hot water. You could face legal and financial consequences for years to come, and your reputation in the community would take a big hit as well.

This crime goes by many names. Whether it’s false impersonation, false personation or criminal impersonation, the U.S. government and all 50 states take it very seriously. In many cases, it’s a felony. It is so closely linked to identity theft that the two crimes are considered one and the same in some states.

Laws vary from state to state, but offenses that fall under the umbrella of false impersonation may include the following:

• Assuming a false identity for personal financial gain or some other benefit.

• Assuming a false identity to defraud someone, create legal problems for them or otherwise do them harm.

• Opening a bank account or obtaining a loan or credit card using another person’s name without permission.

• Pretending to be a representative of an organization or individual.

There are many ways to commit false impersonation. People falsely represent themselves in marriages, courtrooms and immigration hearings.

You don’t have to wear a disguise or alter your voice to be on shaky ground. Depending on where you live, you could be committing this crime if you knowingly misspell your name or lie about your date of birth to a police officer.

False impersonation could be posting bail for a friend using someone else’s name. It could be impersonating a coworker to cash his paycheck. It could be using a fake ID to pin a speeding ticket on someone else.

In some states, Like Texas, it is illegal to impersonate someone online in order to threaten or intimidate others. In 2016, Oklahoma was the first state to pass a law aimed at catfishing. The law made it a crime to steal someone’s name, voice, photo or other information to create a false identity on social media. Victims can request an injunction and seek monetary damages.

On the federal level, the law prohibits impersonating any of the following:

• U.S. citizen

• Federal government officer or employee

• Someone authorized to make an arrest or conduct a search

• U.S. creditor

• Foreign diplomat, consul or officer

• 4–H Club member or agent

• American Red Cross member or agent

Impersonation crimes are not always financial, but they are usually considered immoral and therefore illegal.

If you’re convicted of false impersonation, you could serve significant time in state prison. In the future, you’ll have trouble getting loans, credit, student financial aid or career licensing. Background checks will make it difficult to rent an apartment.

Defending a false impersonation charge in court takes extensive knowledge of the law and years of experience. We are skilled at raising reasonable doubt and making the state prove its case. We’ll give you sound advice about accepting a plea bargain if it comes to that.

Don’t automatically plead guilty or attempt to defend yourself. This is a job for the pros.

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