Rise of dating apps
Over the last decade, dating apps have become one of the most common ways for people to find partners in Australia. In fact, a recent study revealed that more than 3.2 million Australians frequently used dating apps in 2022.
While Tinder is still the most popular dating app in Australia, an increasing number of Aussies are also using other apps in their search for love, such as Bumble, Hinge, eHarmony and Raya.
Dating app dishonesty
As the prevalence of dating apps has increased, so too has the number of complaints of online dating dishonesty. Indeed, nearly everyone who has used a dating app will have dealt with at least one – if not many – dodgy daters.
Dishonesty on dating apps ranges from relatively minor fibs about someone’s height, age or occupation to catfishing or even outright fraud.
Is it a crime to lie on dating apps?
While many in the community would not look favourably upon online dating dishonesty, is it actually against the law?
In NSW, there is no specific crime of lying on a dating app. However, there some situations in which being untruthful online can be unlawful. Here are some examples:
The offence of fraud is contained in section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
To be guilty of this offence, the prosecution must prove that (a) you dishonestly obtained property or a financial advantage by deception or (b) you attempted to do this, even if you were unsuccessful.
So, if you tell lies on a dating app with the intention of defrauding someone of their property or money, you could be guilty of this offence.
A common example of fraud using online dating apps is “catfishing”. Catfishing is the act of creating a false online persona in order to deceive someone. While catfishing itself is not illegal, it can amount to the offence of fraud where the deception is used to obtain someone else’s money of property.
A highly publicised case involving this kind of conduct is that of the now infamous Israeli scammer, Simon Leviev, who was better known as “the Tinder Swindler”. Mr Leviev used Tinder to fool women into lending him money that he would never repay in an elaborate scam similar to a Ponzi scheme. Were Mr Leviev to have engaged in this conduct in NSW and been charged, it is almost certain that he would have been found guilty and sentenced to a significant term of imprisonment.
Dishonesty on dating apps can also amount to the offence of stalking in some circumstances.
The offence of stalking is found in section 13 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 (NSW), which makes it a crime to stalk or intimidate someone with the intention of causing the other person to fear physical or mental harm.
Stalking is defined in section 8 of the same Act to relevantly include “contacting someone or otherwise approaching a person using the internet or any other technologically assisted means.”
For a person to be guilty of this offence, the prosecution must prove that you knew that the conduct was likely to cause fear in the victim.
The offence of stalking carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.
So, if you contact someone using a fictional identity on a dating app with the intention of causing them to fear physical or mental harm, you could be guilty of this offence. Catfishing or trolling for this purpose are examples of this kind of conduct.
Lying on a dating app can facilitate the commission of sexual offences in some cases.
It goes without saying that sexual activity is not lawful if it is not by consent.
Under section 61HJ of the Crimes Act 1900, which was introduced as part of extensive amendments to the criminal law that came into effect on 1 June 2022, consent is taken not to exist in a wide range of circumstances.
Relevantly, one of these circumstances is where a person participates in sexual activity because of a “fraudulent inducement”.
So, if you lie to someone to get them to engage in sexual activity with you and it works, you could be guilty of certain sexual offences, including:
1. Sexual assault, contrary to section 61I of the Crimes Act 1900. This offence involves sexual intercourse and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment, with a standard non-parole period of 7 years.
2. Sexual touching, contrary to section 61KC of the Crimes Act 1900. This offence involves non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature with another person and carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.
3. Sexual act, contrary to section 61KE of the Crimes Act 1900. This offence involves non-consensual sexual acts which do not involve touching and carries maximum penalties ranging from 18 months to 7 years, depending on the age of the victim.
Section 61HJ(3) makes clear that a “fraudulent inducement” does not include a misrepresentation about your income, wealth or feelings. So, if you lie about how much money you earn or how you feel about the other person, that is not against the law.
However, lying about anything else could amount to a fraudulent inducement and see you arrested and charged with a sexual offence.
In the Second Reading Speech for the bill which introduced section 61HJ, the Minister stated that “fraudulent inducement in the context of this provision would also typically not extend to or capture misrepresentations about employment, status or marital status … or pick up lines or white lies.” However, there is nothing in the new laws that actually prevents people from being charged with a sexual offence after telling a lie of this kind.
For a more detailed discussion about section 61HJ(1)(k) of the Crimes Act 1900, see our article “Lying to get laid: Sex by fraudulent inducement in NSW”.
If you are charged with a criminal offence in the context of alleged online dating dishonesty, that does not necessarily mean that you are guilty.
For example, you might deny telling any lies. Or you may admit to telling a lie but deny that you did with the intention of defrauding, stalking or procuring sexual activity with someone.
There might be various other potential defences available to you. An experienced criminal lawyer will be able to advise you about these.
If you are charged with a criminal offence, it is crucial that you speak with a criminal lawyer immediately.
Hanna Legal is one of NSW’s leading criminal law firms and our lawyers have extensive experience in representing people charged with fraud, stalking and sexual offences in the Local Court and District Court.
If you or someone you know requires legal advice, call us on (02)92680444 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an initial conference.