It is becoming easier and easier to commit crimes using the computer. One of the most prevalent online-related crimes that can be committed regarding family law cases is to impersonate your spouse to take out a loan, talk with people, or otherwise use your spouse’s identity to benefit you. We also see spouses impersonate one another to check up on each other.
Maybe you think that your spouse is being unfaithful and want to test their commitment to your marriage. What you do next is look up an old girlfriend of his from Facebook, send an email to your spouse using a made-up email address, and see how he responds. This was an example I thought up right now, so I admit it’s not all that sophisticated. However, if divorce is on the table as an option then you may be in a position where your spouse is thinking of much fewer primitive methods to trick and otherwise gain an advantage over you.
This can add another layer of intrigue to your circumstances. When people are trying to impersonate one another for a divorce that can become a big deal within the structure of the case. Your spouse may try to use the information that they collect or the responses that they receive from you to produce evidence that can be used against you in a trial or hearing of some sort. It may not be as easy to explain away what happened or to give the introduced evidence any context. It can become a mess for you and your family very quickly when online impersonation becomes something relevant to your case.
What laws are on the books to protect Texans from online impersonation?
The state legislature in 2009 anticipated the likelihood that these types of situations would increase over the coming years and passed a law that made it illegal to impersonate another person online. Social Media’s rise has only contributed to this pre-existing problem. What are some examples of how online impersonators can take advantage of unwitting victims? Here are some situations that may have happened to you or a person that you know.
If you frequently use social media, then you have probably experienced a situation where a person has reached out to you out of the blue and asked to be your friend or to join your social circle. Many people ignore these requests if the person is not a close friend or if they do not recognize the name of the person who has asked them to become online friends. There is probably a list of do’s and don’ts somewhere online that you can review to keep yourself safe using social media.
However, suppose that you don’t ignore the friend request and instead add that person as a friend. When looking at his or her profile you see that he or she went to a neighboring high school and says that she lives in your area. All of this looks legitimate. She may even have photos of herself at locations nearby. This makes you think that this person may just be someone that you met but can’t remember them clearly. She may be one of your kid’s friend’s mom or something like that, you reason. Why else would someone friend you out of nowhere? Thinking nothing of it you go along with your day and don’t check your social media for a day or so.
The next thing you know, you check your email, and you have posted on your profile page and direct messages from the person to view. When you go to check your profile, you would be amazed to see the sort of things that this person has posted on your page. Messages accusing you of having an affair with this person’s husband, doctored photos of you in locations you have never been, and personal attacks the likes of which you couldn’t imagine ever being made against you. This is enough to cause you to become nervous and angry at the same time. Who was this person? Why would she go to these lengths or make you look like you did something that you truly didn’t do? What was she capable of doing next?
A closer inspection of her profile shows that she has few friends on the social media network. An even closer inspection shows that of her friends you have no mutual friends and that the people she is friends with are not local to you. Many of her friends seem to be people selected randomly from around the world that have no relation to each other. The more you dig, the more suspicious you become. Is this person even a real person? You delete the posts and messages and then report her profile to the social media network.
A few days go by and you check your profile again and see that this person no longer exists. Just as quickly as she entered your life, she was now gone. No explanation, nothing. Here today and gone tomorrow. All that you are left with is the sneaking suspicion that someone was trying to goad you into getting into an animated exchange online about those accusations being leveled at you. Maybe your spouse was impersonating another person to see if you could get upset at him and to use your responses to those messages to harm your case in a recently filed divorce case.
Next, what if you were the spouse who recently filed for divorce. In the temporary orders for your case, your spouse and you were barred from engaging in hurtful or harmful cards tacked with one another. This means no yelling at the other person, no talking bad about the other person your children, or anything like that. Temporary orders of this sort are intended to keep both of you playing nice in the sandbox until your divorce was over with. You believed that you and your spouse would follow these temporary orders until your case could end.
One of the things that you discovered as you begin the divorce case was that your spouse was honoring the temporary orders in terms of not talking negatively about you to your face but that he chose to go online and post mean and nasty things about you on the Internet two other people. He was careful to do so in ways that you would not be able to see. His hope would have been to say bad things about you but not have them come back to harm him in his case.
Another method that he was trying to employ was to keep track of you by commenting on places you have been. He knew where you would have gone based on your constantly posting online about where you are going during the day. It was almost as if he had your entire calendar in front of him and could keep track of your movements that way. This was another unintended side effect of your having a very strong online presence. The fact that your spouse could now keep track of your movements despite not being anywhere near you was troublesome, to say the least when you began to learn about it.
The other way that your spouse me intend to get back to you 4 the divorce would be to post photos or videos of the two of you in intimate situations. I don’t expect that this is going to be a common situation for everyone reading this blog post, but the reality is that I’m sure there are people out there who have put themselves in this situation and are vulnerable to those types of actions. If this is behavior that you and your spouse of ever engaged in, then you need to be aware of what can happen in your case and what your spouse may be capable of. Even if you can get a court order to prevent him from doing those certain things there is still the embarrassment and anger that you would have suffered from the initial acts themselves.
What is and what is not illegal?
We have been discussing actions that your spouse could take against you that are certainly unpleasant but may not be illegal. Going online and impersonating you may be unpleasant but it may not always be something that breaks a law. How can you distinguish between the two to keep yourself safe and hold your spouse accountable for their bad actions? The first would be to make sure that you hire an experienced family law attorney to represent you in your divorce. While having an attorney cannot necessarily prevent every instance of lawbreaking by your spouse it could at least ensure that you have access to the information to make wise decisions about how to proceed in holding him or her accountable should they do something unlawful.
First, let’s consider a situation where your wife learns that you have frequented online dating websites and have communicated with other women there. This was behavior that you had been engaging in for some time but had assumed that your spouse was unaware of what you were doing. However, your spouse was able to learn about your habits by looking through the history on the computer that the two of you share. As a result, you all would have been able to check up on each other’s habits online without doing anything illegal.
Once your spouse learned about this behavior, he began to come up with a plan to prove that you have been cheating in order so that she could gain an advantage in your upcoming divorce case. What if your spouse created a fake Facebook profile under the name of one of the people that you have been talking to on a dating website? He could then use whatever pre-existing relationship you have with the person to try to entice you to act in ways that are unsavory or detrimental to your case in the divorce.
This is the type of action that would be illegal under the criminal statute that we discussed earlier. Impersonating another person, setting up fake profiles online, and generally acting in ways that are intended to defraud or deceive you are all examples of illegal activity. Imagine if your spouse created a profile and used it to defraud you for money? That would certainly be illegal. The only difference in this scenario would be that the defrauding would not involve money.
On the other hand, what if your spouse created a website where he posted photos of you and this other man on the Internet with captions about how the two of you ruined your family and how your children will forever be harmed because of your bad actions. He would not exaggerate or make anything up but rather mention truthful events and happenings that have harmed your family because of your cheating. This would not be illegal, and he would be exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. While this behavior is certainly not very pleasant it is not illegal in my estimation.
Before you jumped to conclusions and assumed that all actions taken online by your spouse against you are illegal it pays to have the advice and perspective, I have an experienced family law attorney to guide you during your case. Often if your spouse has an attorney and you do too either of you can be counseled out of doing things you might otherwise regret. The best way to avoid a problem like this is to simply ensure that it does not happen in the first place. Your attorney can counsel you on what would be in your best interest and what would not be so that you can position yourself as well as possible in the context of your divorce.
Taking your time out from social media use during a divorce
Probably the most straightforward advice that I can give regarding planning for a Texas divorce is to simply not go online much at all for social reasons during the case. Depending upon the links you want to go this may mean at least setting your social media profiles to private and therefore limiting the access that many people just looking at your information. Other times, you may even want to inactivate a profile. Your ability to delete a profile while a divorce is ongoing may be a different subject altogether.
The reason for this is that social media profiles have potential evidence contained within them. You may not think much of the photos or comments that you make online, but these are potential pieces of evidence that can be used in the context of a divorce. By deleting your profile, you may be deleting evidence. You should refer to the temporary orders in your divorce for further guidance on this and can check with your attorney before deleting any profiles altogether. Your best move may be to inactivate a profile to prevent anyone from looking up your information online during the divorce or otherwise using what they find against you.
Another useful tip when it comes to the online world during a divorce is to constantly change and update passwords and usernames. This is especially relevant during a divorce if you and your spouse share a computer. If you have saved your password or username to an account on that computer, then your spouse may be able to gain access to your accounts without your knowledge. This is a situation that you do not want to put yourself in. Rather, you can protect yourself by updating passwords and not saving them on the computer. This is just a wise thing to do regardless of the circumstances that you find yourself in.
Finally, you can have an honest conversation with your attorney at the beginning of your case to make him or her aware of many pieces of information, photographs, or postings online that may be harmful to your case. Seemingly random photos and social media postings tend to find their way into a divorce case. While I am not telling you to go back and delete these comments or photos what I am telling you is that making your attorney aware of them is a great way to protect yourself from home. A combination of having an open relationship with your attorney to share information like this and shying away from too much online activity during divorce can be a great way for you to minimize the risk of harm that the Internet can have on your divorce case.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.