RICHMOND, Va. (WJHL) – A bill that would penalize people involved in online hoaxes, like a recent false pregnancy in Southwest Virginia, has been proposed in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session.
According to a release from Wise County Commonwealth Attorney Chuck Slemp, the bill was inspired by the 2019 case of Elizabeth Jones, who falsely told a California family she was pregnant and would allow them to adopt her child.
Bill SB 1003 would penalize computer crimes committed by a person who maliciously used the Internet as part of a hoax to get another party to spend money, even if the person behind the hoax did not directly receive any benefits.
SB 1003 would allow the perpetrator to be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The bill “requires that the perpetrator know or should know that the victims would spend funds as a result of the hoax” in order to be charged.
According to Slemp, Senator Ben Chafin introduced the bill at his request after prosecuting the Elizabeth Jones case.
Senator Chafin gave the following statement in the release,
“I am proud to sponsor this legislation to close the loophole that currently exists in Virginia law. The Internet is an important tool that allows for instant communication and commerce across the country. Unfortunately, it also is a tool used by criminals to inflict pain and suffering on innocent victims. It is my hope that this bill will provide additional protections for victims like Matt and Laura Trayte against computer crimes in the Commonwealth.”Senator Ben Chafin
The Traytes traveled to Scott County multiple times over the course of Jones’ fake pregnancy and bought her multiple meals, gifts and spent money in other ways.
They discovered Jones was not pregnant after she sent them photos of a bloody toilet and sheets and said something was wrong with the pregnancy. Jones’ hoax was revealed at Holston Valley Medical Center.
In June 2019, Jones was convicted of obtaining money by false pretenses, but Slemp says in the release that she would have escaped prosecution had she not benefited financially.
You can view the bill online by clicking here.