Is Catfishing a Crime in Minnesota?

“Catfishing” can be described as a scam where a person—also known as the “catfish”—creates a fake online persona in order to seek a romantic relationship on the Internet. The term itself comes from a 2010 film appropriately titled, “Catfish” that featured a man who became romantically involved with a woman he met online before he became suspicious of her true identity.

Since cell phone dating apps and online dating sites have become more popular in recent years, catfishing has become more prevalent. Besides trying to form a romantic relationship with their victims, some catfish seek money or even nude photos of their victims.

Can You Be Criminally Charged for Catfishing in Minnesota?

In a recent case held in Brown County, MN, 30-year-old Jesse Gullickson was found guilty of criminal defamation—since Minnesota does not have a law against catfishing—for impersonating professional wedding photographer Bobby Faerber, using Faerber’s photos to create Snapchat and Plenty of Fish profiles to impersonate him. Gullickson used the fictitious profiles to obtain nude photos from women he communicated with online.

According to state law, criminal defamation means anything that exposes an individual or entity to contempt, ridicule, hatred, disgrace, and degradation in society, or injury to occupation or business. Regarding the Gullickson case, Faerber’s online presence as a local business owner was in jeopardy since the defendant used Faerber’s likeness to gain the trust of his victims. This crime is rarely used since only ten people in Minnesota have been convicted of criminal defamation over the past five years.

A conviction for criminal defamation is punishable by a maximum one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $3,000. However, Gullickson was given two years of probation and a ban from creating dating and social media profiles during the probation period.

Legal Defenses to Criminal Defamation

If you have been accused of criminal defamation, the following are several common defenses to the crime:

  • The truth – Even if the statement was defamatory in nature, a true statement cannot warrant criminal defamation charges.
  • The substantial truth – Aside from a few minor inaccurate or false information, a person cannot be convicted of criminal defamation if the statement is substantially true.
  • Qualified privilege – Common examples of privileged speech include statements in official or professional reports, reviews, and claims.
  • Freedom of speech – The First Amendment protects those who give opinions.

For more information about catfishing in Minneapolis, contact Brockton D. Hunter P.A. today at (612) 979-1112 and schedule a free case review.