Catfish (Catphish) Profiles, false personation in e-dating, Facebook, and other internet descriptions, to embroil victims in romance scams, is now part of the permanent record of NY State’s Assembly. On October 21st, I provided testimony to create awareness and, hopefully, plant seeds that will bring about change.
Assembly Members Jeffrey Dinowitz and Steven Cymbrowitz, who head the State’s standing committees on Consumer Protection and Aging, along with Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, the Chair of the Sub-Committee on Fraud, conducted their hearing on the budget and legislation needed to curb fraud against senior citizens throughout NY State. I was honored to submit both oral and written testimony regarding the perils of dating sites and their impacts on this population.
You can click this link to the video in NY State’s permanent archives. My section begins at 1:14:45 and lasts for approximately 5 minutes. The following is the expanded version which I submitted in writing:
October 21, 2015
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz
Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright
Thank you for the opportunity to address you this morning.
Recently, Governor Cuomo signed “Enough is Enough” into law. By doing so he created a powerful deterrent to sexual assault on NY State’s college campuses. But another type of sexual assault, an entirely covert, underhanded form, is harming NY’s Seniors in epidemic proportions.
Seniors can easily become embroiled in romance scams. While we may be old, we’re not dead yet, and online dating sites that operate with no controls, put seniors and others looking for romance at great risk.
Emotional predators use Catfish profiles, descriptions that convey false identity information, to defraud people of sex, assets, even immigration status, and a myriad of other things. They troll the internet to locate elderly people who are at high risk, or others whose brain chemistry makes them vulnerable targets.
Catfish are covert, rather than overt criminals. Instead of using a two by four to violently overwhelm a person’s consent, they use lies, charm, and romance as a tool to defraud their victims.
Modern scientists are seriously examining the role brain chemistry such as oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin and other neuropeptides and hormones play in making people trusting and loving human beings. Highly skilled catfish misuse a target’s brain chemistry to attract and deceive them. They are masters at the laws of attraction. Tricking a person into sex stirs up their brain chemistry and makes them even more susceptible to financial or other losses.
Loneliness, naiveté, and gullibility are not a crime. Defrauding a person of assets or sex, or misusing them for marriage/immigration fraud, should be.
Back in 1962, I was a sophomore in high school. My favorite course was Algebra. One of the first algebraic concepts I learned was if “A” equals “B” and “B” equals “C” then “A” equals “C”
Also in 1962, The American Law Institute created Model Penal Code, (MPC,) to standardize criminal laws throughout the United States. One of the most widely adopted concepts in Model Penal Code is the definition of consent. It clearly states that consent is ineffective (which is legal ease for invalid,) if induced by deception. MPC is a widely accepted doctrine that serves as the basis of all fraud laws, including New York State’s.
In all crimes of fraud, the offender knows they are defrauding, while their victim does not. The fact that the victim’s recognition of the crime is delayed, does not negate that a crime, indeed took place. For example, it took Bernie Madoff’s victims many years to recognize they’d been scammed.
Fast forwarding to 2015, we now have the ItsOnUs Pledge supported throughout NY State, and even endorsed by President Obama. It clearly states: Non-Consensual Sex Is Sexual Assault.
Connecting the dots between these two important concepts; if
a. deception invalidates consent, and
b. non-consensual sex is sexual assault, then
c. sex induced by deception is sexual assault.
Bronx resident Darlene met the man of her dreams through an on-line dating service called 60+ Dating. She was divorced and lonely. She met a Colonel in the US military, stationed in Iraq, or so she thought until he attempted to extort $10,000 from her.
Darlene was fortunate. She wised up before forking over her assets. Tracy,however, who met the man of her dreams on Plenty of Fish, was not so fortunate. She lost $220,000 to a man who claimed he was single and she was the love of his life. She thought she was investing in a business with a large, internet presence.
There was no business. However, there was a wife and 4 children at home.
Maria, in Manhattan, lost her brother to a marriage/immigration scam. He had a well controlled heart condition that suddenly declined after marrying a woman he’d met through a dating site and brought to the US. Within 4 months, he was dead. She immediately cremated his body and disappeared back to her homeland with all of his assets, including the trust fund that was to be divided by her husband and his two sisters.
The internet has inspired a new type of criminal and a new type of crime.
I respectfully request that the State of NY adopt the following measures to ensure the safety of all e-dating consumers, both old, and young:
- That dating sites operating in NY be required to display a warning that the site does not guarantee the credibility of any member’s profile, and a hotline to report catfish profiles. They should be required to respond to the complainants request within 24 hours.
- That dating sites provide the following warning: Before you engage in a financial exchange, intimacy, or aid in the immigration of anyone you meet on this site, conduct appropriate due-diligence to determine that their facts are accurate, and exchange photo ID.
- Make the distinction between violent rape and other types of sexual assaults (covert rapes,) in NY State’s penal codes. Change the wording in statutes that are not dealing with violent rape to “sexual assault.” Violent rape is an aggravated form of sexual assault, but our penal code now recognizes several forms of covert rape in which no violence takes place. Undermining a person’s consent in any way is a form of sexual assault on that victim, whether or not violence is the tool the offender uses. But making the distinction between violent sexual assault and covert sexual assault will make the concept clearer to the public.
- Identify Catfish profiling as “some factor” in statute 130.25 which reads “a person is guilty of rape (which should be changed to sexual assault,) in the third degree when: he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person without such person’s consent where such lack of consent is by reason of some factor other than incapacity to consent.” In other words, the reason the person does not consent is not because they are incapacitated, but because they are defrauded of consent. Rape in the third degree is a class E felony. Class E non-violent felonies are punishable by either:
- No jail
- 1 1/3 to 4 years
- Help raise awareness about the perils of internet dating and romance scams by declaring June 15th “Truth in Romance Day” throughout NY State.
Joyce M. Short
Author: Carnal Abuse by Deceit