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Impersonating someone online will soon be a crime | Crime

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Impersonating someone online will soon be a crime
Crime

SACRAMENTO - With the start of the new year, maliciously impersonating someone online - with a phony Facebook page or e-mails apparently sent from their account - isn't just a cruel prank anymore. It's a crime.

Senate Bill 1411, authored by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), becomes law January 1, updating California's 19th century impersonation law to the Internet age.

"A 19th century law is no deterrent for 21st century impersonators," Simitian said.

Online impersonators who assume someone else's identity to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud may be charged with a misdemeanor.

"E-personation," said Simitian, "is the dark side of the social networking revolution. Facebook or MySpace pages, e-mails, texting and comments on Web forums have been used to humiliate or torment people and even put them in danger. Victims have needed a law they can turn to." 

Online impersonators have sent Twitter messages "signed" by celebrities, pretended to be someone else to send obscene e-mails, even subjected others to unwanted sexual advances by assuming their identity to post invitations on adult sites. In one example, a woman angry about her ex-husband's girlfriend pretended to be the girlfriend's daughter on an adult dating site, causing the daughter to receive lewd responses.

"E-personation takes no special expertise," said Simitian. "It's as quick and easy as posting comments on a Web forum under another person's name. Until now, there really has been no deterrent."

California's impersonation law had not been updated since 1872.

"E-impersonators are just bullies hiding behind technology," Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group said. "This law ensures these bad actors know there is a price to pay, and holds them accountable for their behavior."

The penalties for online impersonation are similar to those already on the books for other forms of impersonation - a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in jail. The bill would also allow victims of online impersonation to pursue compensation in civil court.

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