Identity Theft and Fraud are closely intertwined in the criminal justice system, and there is a push to criminalize a new form of theft and impersonation that is beginning to occur on the Internet. The main problem with these cases is that the precedent has yet to be set, and laws aren’t uniformly in place to determine the criminal culpability across jurisdiction. Many eyes are turning towards the evolving McCann case in the UK as the defining incident that will begin to define this area of criminal behavior.
The McCann Case
The Madeline McCann case in the UK has nothing to do with Identity Theft, Fraud or Impersonation – it has to do with an ongoing investigation into the disappearance of the young girl while on vacation with her family in Portugal. While the parents were investigated and cleared of any involvement by the police; many on the Internet have decided that they are guilty. The McCann’s have been attacked and threated online by the so-called “trolls” who rely on anonymity for their protection.
All of this began to change recently when the UK police were given a dossier of years’ worth of evidence documenting verbal threats on the Internet by the trolls. As they began to investigate and identify the persons behind each post it began to be a question of how they would be charged. In the states there have already been several tests cases where people using false names have stalked and harassed others online. In most of these cases there were criminal charges filed, some under Identity Theft laws and others under esoteric rulings about encouraging someone to take their own life. With the McCann’s there stands to be a new, global precedent set for how prosecutors can charge those who use false names and avatars to protect their identity while threatening and harassing people whose identity is known online.
In the cases the problem has always been proving the chain of events that shows intent that the harm become real. Online stalking and harassment is only now starting to be defined, and it will be years before the transfer of the regulations regarding restraining orders is translated to the digital environment. For now, all eyes are on the dossier and how the UK police will decide to charge those they discover have engaged in long-term harassment practices.