Recently I have been getting a lot of phone calls about an online dating scam. I wanted to make everyone aware of what is going on.
I have heard a few different versions. It begins on an online dating site, such as Plenty of Fish. A guy begins talking to a “female” who claims she is 18 years old. They exchange phone numbers and start texting. The female will then say she is 17 years old and eventually say she is 16 years old. During the texting, the “female” will encourage the guy to send nude photos or “she” will send nude photos of “herself.”
Once photos are exchanged, a “dad” or “private investigator” will contact the man. In one version I have heard that the “dad” called saying his daughter tried to commit suicide because of the man. He will say she is in the hospital, and he will attempt to get money for the hospital bill. In this version, the “dad” will say not to send a check because he doesn’t have a bank account, so he will only accept a money order.
In another version, the “dad” will contact the man and say he will go to the police unless there is something the man can do about it. This “dad” will say that he is going to make sure the man goes to jail for this unless the man can help. Once again, he will encourage the man to give him money.
In another version, and one I myself got involved in, a “private investigator” will call the man and say he is under investigation for conduct with a minor. These scammers will use real names of investigators in South Carolina. I have already heard of them using one investigator’s name in Horry County and another investigator’s name in Lexington County.
In helping one man, I confirmed with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department that this man was not under any type of investigation. In fact, the investigator these scammers were pretending to be that day was in a murder trial all day as a witness.
I spoke with the real investigator’s boss at the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department that day. He said this is something happening all across the United States. This was not his first time hearing about it either. He said these scammers are overseas, but they are using local numbers to call these men. I had noticed in this situation the phone numbers had an 803 area code, which is the area code for Lexington. Unfortunately, there was nothing the officer could do to help with this being overseas.
I was thinking of some tips that people could use when dealing with this situation to figure out if it is a scam or if you are actually under investigation. One thing is that they are using the term “private investigator.” Police departments do not have “private investigators.” They are simply investigators. Two, they will not take a check for payment and claim to not have a bank account. With that, a police department is not going to ask for payment to make an investigation go away. On the other side, if he is claiming to be the “dad,” who doesn’t have a bank account these days? Most people do, so that should be a red flag as well. Three, ask the investigator to spell his name, and then look up that investigator on the police department’s website. I have seen them spell the name wrong, and that should be a huge red flag. A person would never spell their own name wrong. Finally, do not pay them. If you are unsure as to whether it is a scam or you are actually under investigation, call a criminal defense attorney.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, can a man or woman be under investigation for talking with a 16 year old and sharing nude photos? Well, in South Carolina the age of consent is 16 years old. However, the man could be arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor (South Carolina Code 16-17-490). That is why I, and I’m sure many other defense attorneys, are getting these phone calls. These men are scared, and any type of criminal charge with a minor can ruin someone’s life. I am sure many men have even paid these scammers to avoid it.
I encourage everyone to be cautious when online dating. Make sure you know the laws in your state when it comes to age of consent and other statutes such as the contributing to the delinquency of a minor here in South Carolina. If you are under investigation, contact a criminal defense attorney in your area. If you are being scammed, remember the tips I mentioned above.