devastating | 

Senator Lisa Chambers who was ‘catfished’ plans new law

Practice would be banned under new bill being brought by Fianna Fáil politician

Senator Lisa Chambers had her own pictures used online. Photo: Damien Eagers

Lisa Chambers

Ellen CoyneIndependent.ie

Catfishing would be banned in Ireland under a new bill being brought forward by Fianna Fáil senator Lisa Chambers, who has had her own pictures stolen online.

Senator Chambers said she believes that Irish law needed to catch up with the internet, and put pressure on dating apps to help victims.

Catfishing refers to the phenomenon of a person stealing someone else’s pictures or identity, usually to pose as them on dating apps and initiate deceptive relationships with unsuspecting targets.

Ms Chambers said she was working on a bill that would ban such online dating frauds after an Irish Independentpodcast revealed that there is no legal protection for victims.

Cruel Intentions – Catching the Catfish is a two part special by the Indo Daily podcast, detailed how an Irish woman has had her identity stolen and used to set up multiple dating profiles for at least a year.

Dublin-based Aoibhín (29) learned that the person who was posing as her appeared to have access to her address and a significant amount of personal information.

When Aoibhín tried to go to the gardaí, she learned that catfishing is not a crime in Ireland – neither for people who have their identities stolen, nor those who are duped into engaging in relationships with fake profiles.

Several years ago, Ms Chambers herself learned by chance that her own pictures had been stolen and used by a catfish on a dating site in the UK.

“About four or five years ago, my cousin in England contacted me to say that she had seen my profile picture being used on a dating website there.

“I never thought anything of it, because it never impacted me in any way, because it was in London somewhere. In politics, lots of weird things happen all the time. It was nothing like what happened to Aoibhin,” Ms Chambers said.

“The online space allows people to do this because they can just take your photos off your profile and do whatever they want.” But Ms Chambers told the Irish Independent that the impact of catfishing could be devastating.

“I think there is a lack of understanding about the type of damage those kinds of things can do. I think with catfishing, people might think that it’s only harmless ‘messing’ online.

“But you can absolutely devastate somebody emotionally, psychologically, financially. You can really, really harm a person, even if it’s not in a physical way. There’s a clear gap in our legislation because we’re still catching up with the online space.”

She is at the early stages of examining a bill that would protect victims of catfishing.

The senator said she believed that catfishing could be banned by amending the existing Non-fatal Offences Against the Person Act.

She has been working with the Oireachtas office of parliamentary legal advisers to first of all try to define what catfishing is, and second of all make sure that any new law would deal with catfishing from “both angles”.

“As in, the person that has been harmed because they have been catfished. And then the person whose identity was stolen as well,” Ms Chambers said.

The senator said she hoped a change in the law would help people who have had their identity stolen by a catfish to find out what kinds of dating app activity was carried out under their photograph, name or other information.

In the case of Aoibhin, a request to Tinder to access information about the activity of the person posing as her was declined.

Ms Chambers said that there is a court process that people can undertake to try to get information from dating apps, but it was “extremely costly and not really accessible to the average person.” She said that social media companies will “resist requests, all the time”.

“If gardaí had powers to actually investigate, they could make a request to the social media company and actually get access to the data itself,” Ms Chambers said.


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