What laws protect me from impersonation?
Depending on the abuser’s behavior, there may be laws in your state that can protect you. Please note that these laws, explained below, do not necessarily have to involve impersonation, but may apply when someone is impersonating you.
If an abuser impersonates you or someone else for the purpose of harassing you, that may be a crime that you can report to the police. As a victim of harassment, you may also be eligible for a restraining order, depending on your state’s laws. To see if there is a law against harassment in your state, go to our Crimes page for your state.
Defamation is a legal term that refers to the act of saying or writing false information to others that damages a person’s reputation in the community. If the damaging statement is spoken out loud, that act may be considered slander; and if the statement is written, then it may be considered libel. Slander and libel are not considered crimes, but they are classified as “torts” (civil wrongs) in most states, which means you could sue someone in civil court for damages.
For a statement to be considered slander or libel, the judge will generally require proof that:
it was a false statement;
it was published (meaning a third party must have read or heard the statement); and
the statement caused harm to your reputation (which is often proven by showing that your business was negatively impacted or that you were subjected to public hatred/disapproval, disgrace, or ridicule).
If an abuser has impersonated someone else to speak or write false and damaging statements about you, or has impersonated you to spread false information, you may be able to sue in civil court for money damages. See our Suing an Abuser for Money page for more information on civil lawsuits.
False light is a tort (civil wrong) that is available in some states and is similar to defamation (explained above). False light privacy claims are different from defamation claims because defamation is meant to protect your reputation and false light privacy laws are meant to protect your mental or emotional well-being. To prove false light, the courts generally require proof that:
- the abuser attributed a statement/view to you that you do not hold (placing you in a “false light”);
- his/her actions were done with “actual malice;” and
- the statement or view that s/he attributed to you puts you before the public in a very offensive and untrue manner.
If an abuser has impersonated someone else to share information that places you in a false light, you may be able to sue in civil court for money damages. Generally, even if the information published about you is not necessarily false but is misleading and offensive, a false light claim may apply.
There may be criminal laws in your state that specifically address impersonation. If the abuser is impersonating you with the purpose of defrauding someone, or if the abuser is impersonating a law enforcement officer or public official, his/her behavior may be a crime. You can check your state’s Crimes page to see if your state has a specific impersonation crime. You can also find information about your state’s identity theft laws on the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
In addition, there is a federal law (which applies to all states) called the Truth in Caller ID Act. This law prohibits the falsifying or spoofing of caller ID information with the intent to defraud (cheating/tricking someone out of something), cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value.1 If a person violates this law by illegally spoofing his/her caller ID, s/he can be reported to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and face penalties of up to $10,000. Note: The law does allow for people to use spoofing to mask their caller ID information as a way to protect their personal information and privacy (such as victims of domestic violence concerned for their safety) as long as it’s not being done to cause harm or to defraud anyone.
To learn more about the Truth in Caller ID Act, including information on how to make a complaint if you believe someone is spoofing you illegally, visit the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Guide on Spoofing and Caller ID.
1 47 U.S.C. § 227(e)