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I asked this question about providing false information to a web site. The answer indicates that it is illegal to supply a false identification document even without an intent to commit a further crime, under multiple rules including fraud, forgery and identity crimes. This raises the question of when does lying about ones identity on the internet become a crime? It seems an important question, as I assume most if not all people here do not use their real names and presumably want to avoid unnecessary criminality.

One can imagine a chain of events that go from what most of us do here, and I assume is legal, to what is presented in that question which is illegal. At what point in this chain of events does it change from recommended security advice to a crime?

  • Real person John Smith decides to create a fake persona purely to prevent doxing, as in their real identity being associated with their online persona. They have no intention to commit a crime, or gain something that they could not with their real identity.
  • John creates Fred Blogs, as in invents a name, address, DOB etc. that closely matches John's real identity but different enough to prevent doxing
  • John creates an image of a completely fictitious identity document, something like a Camouflage passport but existing purely digitally, perhaps created with a popular image manipulation tool.
  • John creates an image of a their real identity document, and edits the name, number, address and DOB to match that of Fred Blogs, perhaps with a popular image manipulation tool.
  • John participates in decentralised social media, presenting as Fred Blogs (note this is the recommended and most common way of interacting on usenet )
  • John is approached for an identity document by an individual with respect to their political views, and supplies one of the images described above
  • John is approached for an identity document by an individual with respect to a potential romantic engagement, and supplies one of the images described above
  • John is approached for an identity document by an unrelated organisation, and supplies one of the images described above
  • John is approached for an identity document by an organisation related to the social network, such as the developers, and supplies one of the images described above
  • As above, but involving a centralised social media site rather than a decentralised one
  • As above, but instead of being to avoid doxing the aim is investigative journalism (as may be required to write this article in a year or so)

I am particularly interested in the United Kingdom, but I kind of guess it is one of those things that "in a country with an extradition treaty with the US" may be most relevant.

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  • "supplies one of the fake identity documents above": there are no fake identity documents above, only images of documents. (One is an image of a document that itself does not meet the definition of "identity document" because it does not purport to have been issued by a real country, and the other is a falsified image of a real identity document.)
    – phoog
    Mar 15, 2022 at 12:43
  • @phoog I have changed the text above. I think most people would call a camouflage passport an identity document, but I am not aware of a specific legal definition.
    – User65535
    Mar 15, 2022 at 13:32
  • Seems like they are doing a lot more then using a false name with all the fake document creation. Normally when you think of using a false name online it is calling yourself a different name and not creating fake documents to back it up.
    – Joe W
    Mar 15, 2022 at 13:50
  • @phoog As far as I can tell, a fake ID is anything that attempts to establish the false identity of a person. I don't see the relevance of it being a physical document or a digital image, nor whether it's a real document that's been altered or a completely fabricated document. If John Smith presents documentation with the intent to prove he is someone other than John Smith, he's using a false identity document. Owning a camouflage passport may not be illegal, but attempting to establish your identity with it may be. Mar 15, 2022 at 13:59
  • @NuclearHoagie that is not the definition of "identity document" established in the act to which the question links. There, a camouflage passport is not an identity document, much less a fake one. User65535: "I am not aware of a specific legal definition": you linked to one.
    – phoog
    Mar 15, 2022 at 17:57

1 Answer 1

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Under Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006, it becomes fraud at the point that you supply the fake personal data (name, address, DOB) with the intention of making a gain or causing someone a loss. Note that there doesn't have to actually be a gain or a loss, and that the definition also includes exposing someone to a risk of loss.

Under Section 6 and Section 7, the fake documents become illegal at the moment that you possess or create them (even if you haven't supplied them yet) if they are possessed or created in relation to fraud. Under Section 8, this includes fake documents which are in digital form.

Under Section 5, "gain" and "loss" refer to money or property, and "property" is defined as "including things in action and other intangible property". That means that, for example, it includes contractual rights and obligations. Hence, if you use fake information on a site whose terms and conditions forbid doing so, you are arguably committing fraud. On the one hand, you are accessing a service in circumstances where the site didn't want to provide access (making a gain). On the other hand, you are evading the site's ability to sue you for breach of contract (exposing them to a risk of loss).

If there is no element of making a gain or causing / exposing to a risk of loss, then it isn't fraud. Fraud by false representation also requires that the defendant acted "dishonestly". This explains how for example authors can use pen names without committing fraud.

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  • Thank you for this answer, it is great. Could you elaborate on if the avoidance of risk of doxing if the company leaked the data you provided would count as a gain? If you could supply your real ID and get access to the service, but instead you use fake ID to protect yourself in the case the ID is lost to hackers?
    – User65535
    Feb 16 at 14:13
  • @User65535 I can't give you a definitive answer, but it seems to me that that wouldn't count because the "risk of doxing" isn't money or property (see Section 5 linked above). The only thing here that could count as property is your legal right not to be doxed (which is a "thing in action" i.e. something you can sue for), but you already had that under the GDPR; it isn't something you gain by using the fake name.
    – JBentley
    Feb 16 at 16:49
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    But authors often use pen names to make a gain, for example if their previous book was so unsuccessful that they expect to sell more copies of their next book if it comes out under a different name. Are you suggesting that that constitutes fraud?
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 16 at 19:11
  • @MikeScott Probably not, because Section 2 also requires that the false representation is made "dishonestly", which the courts have defined to mean what an ordinary decent person would consider to be dishonest, given what the defendant believes to be the relevant facts (R. v Barton and Booth [2020]). That probably captures fake names/documents, but not pen names (which are considered an acceptable practice by most people). I edited my answer a bit.
    – JBentley
    Feb 17 at 9:54

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