Penalties for Impersonating Someone and Victim Redress
What is Impersonation?
Impersonation refers to the act of:
- Pretending to be some other person;
- Knowingly substituting one person for another; or
- Claiming to be a person other than who he or she really is
Generally, impersonation itself is not an offence. However, in impersonating someone, one may commit offences, such as impersonation by cheating.
This article will discuss the impersonation-related offences and their penalties, as well as the next steps forward for both victims and offenders.
Impersonation-Related Offences and Their Penalties
Impersonation by cheating
Pursuant to section 416 of the Penal Code, a person is considered to have cheated by personation if the cheater commits the act of impersonation (mentioned above) and then deceives you into doing something that you would not do if you hadn’t been deceived, or to not do something that you would have done if you hadn’t been deceived.
For example, if you trick a victim into transferring money to a particular bank account, by pretending to be the employee of that bank, you could be liable for cheating by impersonation.
The offence can be committed regardless of whether the individual personated is a real or an imaginary person. The cheater must have also had the intention to cheat the victim.
Penalties for cheating by impersonation
Impersonating a public servant
A person is considered to have impersonated a public servant (such as police officers) under the following scenarios:
- The cheater pretends to hold a particular office as a public servant when he knows that he does not; or
- The cheater falsely impersonates any other person holding such office,
and does or attempts to do something that only such public servants are empowered to do. For example, this could involve pretending to be police officers and asking members of the public for their wallets so you can check their identities.
Penalties for impersonating a public servant
If convicted of personation of a public servant, you will be jailed for up to 2 years and/or fined.
An offender who has impersonated another may also be charged with criminal defamation, if he/she uses the impersonation to defame another person, and in doing so, intended or had reason to believe that that person’s reputation will be harmed. This includes making or publishing false statements about the impersonated person:
- By words either spoken or intended to be read;
- By signs; or
- Visible representations.
For example, if you pretend to be A, and falsely spread rumours about B online through Facebook posts, you could be convicted of criminal defamation.
Where the impersonation is committed online, it may also be regarded as cyberbullying. For example, when you post offensive or aggressive messages under another person’s name online, with the intention to harm that person’s image.
Penalties for criminal defamation
If convicted of criminal defamation, you will be jailed for up to 2 years, and/or fined.
Are All Impersonation-Related Offences an Arrestable Offence?
Cheating by impersonation and impersonating a public servant are arrestable offences. An arrestable offence is one where the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant.
Criminal defamation on the other hand, is a non-arrestable offence. This means that the police must obtain an arrest warrant from the court before they can arrest the alleged offender.
Once the suspects have been arrested, those charged with impersonating a public servant and for criminal defamation are generally entitled to be released on bail. However, if you’re charged with cheating by impersonation, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release them on bail.
Will People Convicted of Any of the Impersonation-Related Offences have a Criminal Record?
If you are convicted of cheating by impersonation or impersonating a public servant you generally will have a criminal record. If you are convicted of criminal defamation, you will not have one.
Even if your criminal record has been registered, you might still have the opportunity to have your criminal record treated as spent. This simply means that your record will be wiped clean. To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:
- If you were given a prison sentence, your imprisonment term must have been not more than 3 months;
- If you were given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
- You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
- You must not have any previous spent record on the register.
If you meet these criteria, you then have to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of your release from prison, or from the date that your sentence was passed if you were given a fine.
Once you accomplish this, your record will be spent automatically, and you will be able to legally declare that you do not have a criminal record.
Next Steps for Victims of Impersonation
If you have been impersonated, you should first make a report to the relevant service provider for the post/account to be taken down, or to the relevant organisation in which the personator pretended to be part of.
Upon which, you should make a police report. You may take down details of the personation as evidence to be used during court. Some details of the personation can include:
- Who the personator claimed to be
- Details you have provided to the personator
- The means of which the personator used to personate you or contact you.
If the impersonation has also led to you being harassed, such as if you are being cyberbullied, you may also wish to file for a protection order under the Protection from Harassment Act.
A protection order is a court order prohibiting the personator from committing any abusive act towards the victim through preventing further communications and removing harassing publications.
Should the personator be convicted of an offence, under section 359 of the Penal code, the court may also order the personator to pay compensation to you.
Next Steps for Offenders of Impersonation-Related Offences
If you have been charged with an impersonation-related offence, you may want to discuss your options with a criminal lawyer, who will be able to advise you on whether you should claim trial or plead guilty to the charges.
While it is possible for you to represent yourself, there are many procedures, documents and legal principles that you must be familiar with. A criminal lawyer would be able to guide you through such processes.
Additionally, prior to the hearing of your case in court and when the prosecution decides whether to press charges, a lawyer can help you submit representations to the prosecution to either reduce your charges or have them dropped altogether.
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