Given that there's Person A and Person B:

Let's say that Person B decides to play two pranks - maybe with the intent to cause emotional distress to Person A - both instances by pretending to be in a medical crisis and impersonating a medical professional.

Let's say the first prank involved Person B claiming that he/she was being taken away by an ambulance. Person B texts Person A the following:

1.) "Person A, this is Sean. I’m a paramedic with Person B right now. We put him/her on the gurney and he/she handed me his/her phone and told me to tell you he/she would be fine and he/she asked me to keep you updated if you wanted. He/she fainted and his/her BP is high but his/her vitals aside from that are strong and we are on the way to the hospital"

2.) “I am just a paramedic, I will hand his/her phone off to an ER doctor when we get there to update you periodically”

Let's say the second prank involved Person B claiming that he/she is admitting himself/herself to a psychiatric facility and needs to give his/her phone to one of the therapists there. Person B texts Person A the following:

1.) “Hello Person A, the is Allie. I am one of the therapists that will be working with Person B. We will update when he/she requests that we do so, and we will tell you only what he/she tells us to tell you."

2.) “Person B asked me to give you a generic update. We have done a thorough psych evaluation and he/she is currently marked as mentally unstable and at a high risk of self harm. He/she stoped talking about anything and hasn’t really said a word for the past few hours, did he/she ever tell you of any mental illnesses running in his/her family?”

Let's say - a month later - Person A is persistent with questions of whether this really happened and Person B eventually admits that it was all a joke.

Does Person B have legal grounds to press charges for any of this? Did any crime take place? Is Person B able to be convicted for impersonating through text messaging?

  • 1
    Probably not - although without a jurisdiction its probably hard to give a specific answer.
    – davidgo
    Dec 26, 2020 at 7:04
  • @davidgo Massachusetts
    – johnDoeTho
    Dec 26, 2020 at 7:05
  • Apparently this man was indicted for impersonating a police officer through texting: thenewsjournal.net/…
    – johnDoeTho
    Dec 26, 2020 at 7:06
  • 1
    Paramedics and doctors are decidedly not allowed to talk to a third person about a condition unless explicitly given the OK by the patient - and even then they can't access the phone without the patient handing over an unlocked phone.
    – Trish
    Dec 26, 2020 at 8:01
  • 1
    I don't think that impersonating a police officer is (legally speaking) the same as impersonating a doctor. Doctors roles do not give them the same degree of power over others - and I don't think they would be federal employees so not covered by the statutes that impersonating a police officer is.
    – davidgo
    Dec 26, 2020 at 8:18

1 Answer 1


Keep in mind that there are two kinds of legal consequences.

One is criminal liability for violating a criminal statute, in a prosecution that must usually be brought by a government official.

Merely causing emotional distress, in and of itself, is not generally a crime. For that matter, inducing someone to have sex with you through lies about anything other than the identity of the person having sex is usually not a crime. But inducing someone to disclose secrets or take actions that they otherwise would not have taken based upon a statement like this could be wire fraud, theft, extortion, or a variety of other crimes, depending upon what the person A was induced to do by the messages. Knowing what was sent, in isolation, doesn't tell you everything you need to know.

While practicing medicine or other healing arts without a license is a crime or at least a civil offense, this wouldn't necessarily qualify, because person B is pretending to create someone treating person B, not pretending to practice medicine on person A. No one who wasn't in on the prank had medicine purportedly practiced upon them. But if the text were use to cause someone to act in reliance on a medical opinion (e.g., to get an employer to grant family leave to person A) then it might be illegal practice of medicine.

The second is civil liability, in the form of a lawsuit for committing a civil wrong, called a "tort" or breaching a contract, or for other private individual initiated requests for remedies.

The conduct in the question, conceivably gives rise to civil liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress, or civil fraud. But to know that it isn't enough to know what was said. One also has to know what happened on the other end of the communication.

Did person A believe the text? Did person A suffer extreme emotional distress? Did person A part with money or information that couldn't have been obtained without a false statement of fact? Was person A's reputation harmed somehow?

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