Is this a dating website scam, or am I about to get arrested? As an internet sex crime defense lawyer, I am regularly contacted by people who have found themselves in variations of the following generalized hypothetical situation:
“I was on a dating website, or Craigslist, and I met a female who is 26 years-old. Her profile indicated she was 26 and she told me she was 26 in our online chats. I had no reason to disbelieve her regarding her age and everything appeared completely legitimate. Well, we hit it off and communicated online for a period of weeks. We spent time chatting and exchanged photos. Some of the photos sent were in various states of undress.
Well, to my dismay, I was just contacted by a person who claims to be her father. I was shocked to learn from him that she is not 26, but is apparently only 16!?!? He is extremely upset and aggressive. He says she has been traumatized by these events and has sustained expenses in the form of medical and psychiatric bills. He says if I don’t send him money to pay the expenses, he will go to the police and have me arrested. He has all of my information, including pictures I sent and the chats engaged in. He wants me to make payments via gift cards or money orders. What should I do? By the way, I am married and employed and I don’t want anyone to know about this! What should I do?!?!?”
The frequency of these types of inquiries are indicative of the success this scam must be achieving. Unlike many scams, this one is likely particularly effective as it creates a great deal of fear, anxiety and uncertainty in the individual who falls prey to it.
The following questions typically arise:
- Is this a scam, or, is this real?
- Did I commit a crime? Is there real criminal exposure? Or, is this just someone trying to make a quick buck?
- What information does this other person or group of people have?
- Is my employer going to find out about this? What about my co-workers?
- Will my family and friends find out about this situation?
- What is going to happen to the content that was transmitted? What about the photos that were sent out?
- If I send the money, or gift cards and money orders, will this all go away?
- Can I go to the police or law enforcement to address this? But if I go, will I be the one who gets in trouble even though I don’t believe I did anything wrong?
- Am I in danger?
If I pay the money that is being demanded, how do I know the other person will not come back and request more? Is paying the money even legal for me to do? Is it legal for them to request?
If I pay the money, can law enforcement still get involved and arrest me?
These are legitimate and real questions that often arise in these situations. Often, individuals who find themselves in these circumstances do not know where to turn, or who to consult. Further, the stress, anxiety and panic often overwhelms their decision-making process.
As an internet sex crime defense attorney, I have represented many individuals who have found themselves in these types of situations. There are generally many steps to the representation in order to achieve the best outcome possible.
First, it is important to understand the client’s background, history and characteristics. Next, a comprehensive understanding as to the history with the alleged dating site “victim”, if any. Then, a determination must be made as to whether the information points to this situation being a scam, or something that may be a real situation with a potential real victim associated therewith and the potential criminal or civil liability that may be forthcoming. Finally, a determination as to what exposure, if any, the client may have.
Once all of the information is conveyed, reviewed and understood, a strategy tailored to the client’s circumstances and goals can developed and implemented. Since every individual presents with unique circumstances, it is important to develop an effective strategy geared towards the specific details of each matter.
If you, or someone you know, believes they may be the victim or target of an online dating scam, please contact The Frey Law Firm for a free initial consultation with Internet Sex Crime Lawyer Ron Frey.