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What is “catfishing,” and how does it relate to aiding and abetting, entrapment? P.1

Some of our readers may be familiar with the term “catfishing”. The term has an interesting etymology, but really rose in popularity several years ago in connection with the girlfriend hoax involving New Orleans Saints linebacker Manti Te’o. The long and short of it is that Te’o had fallen in love from online interactions with a person he thought was a young woman. In reality, it was another man who had himself fallen in love with Te’o and used an online persona to interact with him.

Catfishing can refer to different things, but in a digital context it usually means the fraudulent seduction of another online by using a fake online profile. A recent example of possible catfishing in Florida is the case of a 22-year-old Fort Lauderdale lifeguard who was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for seeking to have sex with a 9-year-old girl last year. 

According to the young man’s explanation, he was catfished for two years by a person he thought was a 20-year-old woman who encouraged him to engage in increasingly risky sexual behavior, including with minors. According to the Fort Lauderdale man’s attorney, that individual was actually an older man who was toying with him. The two ever met, but after the interactions the Fort Lauderdale man ended up unknowingly communicating online with an FBI agent who posed as a father willing to allow him to have sex with his young daughter.

While the man’s online activities prior to communicating with the FBI agent apparently did not factor into the court’s handling of the case, it does raise interesting questions about the responsibility of those whose online catfishing contributes to criminal activity, and brings to mind the responsibility undercover agents can sometimes have for causing crimes to occur.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at these issues, and the importance of working with an experienced criminal defense attorney when one is accused of internet sex crimes. 

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