This article is written by Mayank Labh, a student of NALSAR, Hyderabad, on the punishment for creating a fake account on Internet.
It is common to see fake profiles on social networking websites, matrimonial sites etc. It is often harassment for the people who are on the other side of the computer. So, given the magnitude of such fake profiles it is necessary to look at the legality and the punishment for creating such fake profiles.
In order to decide whether a person can be punished for creating fake accounts in India, it needs to be seen whether the fake account is made up of a person who really exists in the world or it is just a random fake account.
Making a fake account of another person
Section 66-D of Information Technology Act 2000, which was subsequently amended in 2008, states that “whoever by means of any communication device or computer resource cheats by personating, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.”
It is necessary that a person must cheat which means that there must be a pecuniary benefit to the person who is making a fake account of another person. The real face behind the fake profile can be traced through IP address. Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numeric label – a set of four numbers (Eg. 188.8.131.52) – that is assigned to every device (e.g., computer, printer) participating on the internet.
How to file a complaint?
The victim can file a complaint before the Adjudicating officer appointed under Information Technology Act (Generally it is the Chief Secretary/Secretary Information Technology Department of respective state). This application has to be heard and decided the application within 4 months and the entire issue has to be decided within 6 months.
Punishment for such crime is imprisonment for up to three years and fine which may extend to three years.
Similarly, Section 419 of the IPC could also be applied with the same qualification that it must be making a pecuniary benefit to it.
So, for example, a person makes a fake gmail account of a corporate entity in order to lure customers as to entering into the contract. He would be held liable under Section 66D and Section 419 of the Act. It is pertinent to mention that he has gained some pecuniary benefits by making a fake account of the corporate entity.
Under Section 465 of the Act, a person committing forgery shall be imprisoned for up to two years and shall also liable to pay fine. Forgery is defined in Section 465 which makes that a person making false electronic records with the intent to cause damage or injury to public or to any particular person. So, a person making a fake profile can be said to be producing false electronic record. However, for him/her to become liable it is necessary to show that there is an intention to cause damage or injury.
Making a random fake account.
Making a random fake account is not punishable per se unless it is fraudulent under the cyber laws of the country which has already been discussed above. It was punishable under Section 66A (b) that stipulates that a person guilty of sending information which he knows to be false and is aimed to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger etc. And fake profile on a social media may amount to false information. The imprisonment was up to three years and a fine could also be levied. But, it has been struck down by the apex court of India.
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 Section 66D of Information Technology Act, 2000.
 Adapted from the Wikipedia entry on IP Address