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First off, the name will be completely made up, maybe using a random name generator, so this shouldn't be impersonation. What would happen if the person breaks the contract, or that everything went fine except that the company found out about the fake name afterwards?

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    Was there a meeting of the minds and consideration? Nov 12, 2022 at 4:54
  • @GeorgeWhite Those will determine whether there is a valid contract, but they won't determine whether the use of the pseudonym is illegal.
    – JBentley
    Nov 14, 2022 at 11:33
  • It was a question to better understand the overall picture. Nov 14, 2022 at 16:03
  • If you take property and violate the contract, chances are you are commiting fraud. If you had just violated the contract using your own name, it would have been a civil case only, but if you use a false name, it will constitute that you intended to never respect the contract to begin with, which amounts to fraud. Nov 15, 2022 at 8:55

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Why does the name matter?

Today, I entered into a contract to buy petrol and, later, beer and a Caesar salad. In neither case did I exchange names with the other party.

If you entered into a contract under a false name with the intent to avoid your responsibilities then that would be fraud. But then, so would doing so under your real name.

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  • Writers and journalists sign contracts under pen names a lot, especially if they live in oppressive regimes.
    – Trish
    Nov 12, 2022 at 10:33
  • While entering a contract without intention of engaging the responsibilities in your part is fraud, using a false name is an obvious evidence of so, while using your real name you could still use a pretext of engaging a bonna fide contract, which would make it harder to proof fraud. Nov 15, 2022 at 8:57
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Is it illegal to sign a contract deliberately under a made-up name?

Generally speaking, no. The few (if any) exceptional contexts where this might be illegal depend on the nature of that contract or the statutory framework at issue.

Signing a contract is merely a party's attestation that he is committing to a set of terms and conditions knowingly and willfully. The drawback of allowing a counterparty to make up an arbitrary signature is a difficulty --and in some scenarios an impossibility-- to prove that the contract is binding to that counterparty. Failure to prove that would defeat claims of that counterparty's breach of contract.

In the case of mutual performance of a contract, company's awareness of the party's fake name is inconsequential unless the company's obligations elsewhere require it to handle a reliable identifier of the party. Rescinding the contract would be disproportionate, especially where the party is open to fix the discrepancy, and a finding of illegality is even unlikelier.

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  • But if I gave you a false name and that's why you can't sue me for breach of contract (because you don't know who I am), that would then be fraud on my side.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 14, 2022 at 12:21
  • @gnasher729 The plaintiff would pursue alternative claims, including breach of contract, fraud, quantum meruit, etc. if the defendant breached the contract. The plaintiff is only precluded from double recovery, meaning that he is entitled to relief pursuant to just one of the claims where he prevailed. Even under contract law, a defendant's use of a false name/signature would be unavailing if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant is the one who entered the contract. Nov 14, 2022 at 12:31
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In general, no, unless doing so amounts to fraud. Note that in practice it often will amount to fraud. Whether it does or not will depend on your intention at the time that you used the pseudonym.

Fraud by false representation

Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006 provides:

(1) A person is in breach of this section if he — (a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and (b) intends, by making the representation — (i) to make a gain for himself or another, or (ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2) A representation is false if — (a) it is untrue or misleading, and (b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

It's important to note that intention is determined according to the objective test i.e. what a reasonable person would think the intention was as opposed to what was actually in the mind of the alleged offender.

So, if you write a pseudonym on the contract but inform the other party of this fact together with your primary name then this is unlikely to amount to fraud. On the other hand, if you fail to inform the other party, then depending on the circumstances a reasonable person might easily think your intention was to cause a gain / loss e.g. by obstructing the other party from pursuing you in the courts for a breach of contract, by avoiding revealing information to a lender on a credit search, etc.

Note also that there is no such thing as an authoritative record of what your name is. You are in fact free to change your name at any time, as many times as you like. If you really want to, you can have a different name for each hour of the day. The important thing is that you comply with your legal obligations (e.g. to inform the DVLA when your details change) and that you do not commit fraud (by using your various names as a way to make a gain or cause a loss to another).

Fraud by failing to disclose information

This is similar to fraud by false representation except in this case you are failing to disclose information which the law requires you to disclose. Section 3 provides:

A person is in breach of this section if he — (a) dishonestly fails to disclose to another person information which he is under a legal duty to disclose, and (b) intends, by failing to disclose the information — (i) to make a gain for himself or another, or (ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

This is often applicable when dealing with bureaucratic processes where the law requires you to provide your name as part of an application form (which may itself incorporate some form of contract). A non-contractual example can be found at Section 170(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which provides that in the event of certain types of accidents:

(2) The driver of the mechanically propelled vehicle must stop and, if required to do so by any person having reasonable grounds for so requiring, give his name and address and also the name and address of the owner and the identification marks of the vehicle.

If you give a pseudonym, intending to make it harder for the other person to pursue you for an insurance claim, that could amount to fraud.

Another example is Sections 1200, 1201, and 1202 of the Companies Act 2006, which require you to disclose your name on various documents (e.g. business letters) if you are carrying on business as an individual.

What would happen if the person breaks the contract, or that everything went fine except that the company found out about the fake name afterwards

Both of these are irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether you actually gain or the other person actually suffers a loss. What matters is whether you intended that to be the case.

Note also that the Act includes the scenario where the intention is merely to expose the other party to a risk of loss. For example, a mortgage contract may ultimately conclude with all payments made on time, but if your use of a pseudonym prevented the lender from discovering your past defaults, you've exposed them to a risk. If that was your intention since the start, the offence may be triggered.

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