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In some cases, you do not need to provide your true legal name and birthdate, such as if you are just having a regular conversation. However, in some cases, it is required to provide accurate information and not doing so could range from a mere breach of contract to a crime. For example, in the cases below, which is a breach of contract, a tort, or a crime?

  1. You sign up for a social networking site with a false name and birthdate, although the ToS requires accurate information. (US v. Drew is a relevant case here, but it only applies to the Central District of California, I presume.) This specifically has been mentioned previously, but this is included to give a side-by-side comparison of different situations.
  2. You go to a restaurant or hotel and use a false name/birthdate (possibly because you are a critic and need to remain anonymous, or for any other reason).
  3. You use a false name/birthdate when signing up for a bank or other financial institution?

These are just some examples. Assume that this is not an attempt at impersonation, identity theft, or fraud.

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  • @BlueDogRanch I assume it is either criminal or unlawful to provide inaccurate information even outside of fraud. Impersonation is one case; I cannot legally pretend to be the President or other government official to tarnish his/her image, even without financial compensation. Aug 3 at 20:41
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In general, providing a false name or birthdate (DoB) is only actionable when there is a legal duty to provide the correct information, or when a provision of a contract to which the person agreed requires it. If the falsity is part of a common-law fraud, then it would be unlawful, and possibly criminal.

In the cases listed in the question:

  1. Sign up for an online service with a false identity although the ToS requires an accurate identity: This would be a breech of contract. Whether there could be a successful suit for such a breech would depend on why the contract demanded an accurate ID, and what harm the lie did or might do.
  2. Use a false name at a restaurant or hotel, but with no intent to defraud or avoid payment. I don't think there is any duty to give an accurate name on a restaurant reservation. In some jurisdictions the law requires an accurate name be used on a hotel register, and valid ID presented. But such violations are rarely pursued, unless they are part of a fraud or some other criminal activity (theft, prostitution, or drug dealing, say).
  3. Giving a false name when opening a bank account or other financial account. In the US, and I think many other jurisdictions, the law requires accurate identification of all bank account holders, including a SSN, EIN, or TIN. It also requires a bank to make efforts to verify such IDs, and violation are prosecuted. There are legal ways to get an account under an alternate name such as a penname or DBA, but this must be disclosed to the bank and to the IRS.

Other cases that occur to me:

  • Giving a false name at a shop when not obtaining credit or avoiding payment: generally legal.
  • Obtaining a credit card under a false name: Can be done legally if disclosed to the issuer.
  • Giving a false name or DoB to a pharmacy for a prescription: unlawful if attempting to access the medical info of another, or rely on another person's history to get a prescription, but may be lawful if this is just an alias, such as a celebrity might use to avoid publicity. Unlawful if done to obtain a controlled substance, or if insurance fraud is involved.
  • Putting a false name on a job resume: lawful, but if hired an I-9 form will require a valid name and SSN or TIN. Employers usually may not require that a DoB be provided.
  • Giving false info as part of any credit application: usually considered fraud, even if there is no intent to avoid payment, as it can deceive the creditor as to the amount of risk involved; specifically criminal in some states.
  • Giving a false name on a date: perfectly lawful, but may cause a problem if a long term relationship develops. Some states require a valid name on a marriage license.
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Your name is what you answer to

This may or may not be what’s written on your birth certificate. In common law jurisdictions, people are allowed to use whatever name they like and can use different names in different circumstances. For example, you know who Reginald Kenneth Dwight is even if you don’t recognise the name.

Absent an intention to commit an offence, or in circumstances where the truth is legally required (e.g. while under oath or if a piece of legislation requires it) not using your your real name or birthdate is not a crime.

Similarly, since torts can be committed by people unknown, the mere fact of using a different identifier cannot be a tort.

It can be a breach of the terms of a contract, however, that would depend on the terms themselves. It would need to be an explicit condition of the contract that you must use your legal name and correct birthdate for it to be grounds for termination. If it was merely a warranty then breaching it could allow a suit for damages, which just raises the question: what damage?

Now, this all changes if you are doing this to mislead or deceive as part of a criminal undertaking but your question has taken that off the table.

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  • That was the basic common law position, but specifically in the US laws now mandate use of a legal name in many circumstances. Even when no fraud or other criminal intent is involved. Aug 3 at 22:08
  • @DavidSiegel I can’t speak for what they do in the land of the previously free
    – Dale M
    Aug 3 at 22:09
  • Fair enough, but this question is tagged for the United States, so that is relevant. I rather suspect that there are similar laws in teh UK and Canada. I have no idea about Australia or NZ. Is it really not required to provide legal names on bank accounts there, say, that may be reported to tax authorities? Aug 3 at 22:11

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