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Bill would make 'catfishing' illegal

MADISON, Wis. - (WISC) Online crimes, like 'catfishing,' are happening more frequently and lawmakers hope a new bill will help prevent it.

A bill under consideration Thursday at the state Capitol would make it illegal for a person to create fake accounts online and pretend to be someone else to manipulate others.

This bill would make it a misdemeanor for someone to impersonate someone online if they're doing it to threaten, harass or get money from someone. The term is called 'catfishing." It includes stealing someone's photos and pretending to be them and creating a fake identity altogether.

Under the bill, someone found guilty would face a $1,000 fine or up to 90 days in jail.

UW System chief information security officer, Nicholas Davis, many profiles are created overseas and are difficult to prosecute.

"Anytime we can reduce internet crime, anytime we can bring it to the public's attention, we are all better off. However, I want to add that this will only address issues that occur locally. It won't address issues that stem from people who are overseas setting up fake profiles," he said.

Davis said individuals need to know the warning signs and actively protect themselves online.

The three biggest things to look for are threats, flattery, and sense of immediacy when talking to someone on the internet.

"I want to emphasize that bills and laws against these things only serve to punish people after the action takes place. It doesn't get your money back for you. It doesn't negate all the emotional strain you're going to have to go through," Davis said.

The Assembly's committee on Crime, Justice and Public Safety will hold a public meeting on the bill Thursday.

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