On the surface it seems like a good idea. A website where neighbors can anonymously warn each other about sexual predators living in their neighborhoods. The site, which we are not identifying, proudly boasts..."we operate based on the efforts from (sic) motivated members of their local communities who have at one point or another come into contact with a potential predator." and "These offenders should be taught a lesson before their actions escalate."
But here`s the problem. Because the tips are given anonymously, the site claims no responsibility for accuracy. Anyone can post personal information about anyone including pictures, addresses, phone numbers...regardless of whether that person is actually a sexual predator. The administrators of the site credit the Communications Decency Act for that. According to the site "If you are considering suing (the site) because of a profile that you claim is defamatory, you should be aware that, to date, (the site) has never lost a case." and that, because of the Communications Decency Act, "The site itself cannot be held legally responsible for the posted material" because material is posted by anonymous sources.
And the only way to have that information removed is to pay the administrators of the site $100, according to the site, "Due to the costs associated with altering the content of the site on an individual basis." That`s the scam.
John Huchinson of Des Moines is listed on the site. He isn`t a sex offender..and suspects an ex-girlfriend posted his information---labeling him a pedophile online. "Oh, I`m really angry. It`s shameful to have that kind of a label. I`m a pretty proud person. I don`t do anything to make myself look bad. At least I try not to. So yeah, that`s about a bad a thing as you can have happen to you." Huchinson says.
He won`t pay the hundred bucks...he refuses to be black mailed. But he`s also worried about his reputation. "Absolutely. I`ve got a good reputation. 50 years old. I`ve been around a while. Lived my life. Worked hard. Earned a living. Provided for myself and my family. To have my name drug through the dirt like this is nothing I would have ever expected."
We`re not releasing the name of the site...we don`t want to help their business. But they`re smart . They are using a proxy so we can`t find out exactly where they`re operating from. So we called the FBI.
"It`s definitely illegal. We`re definitely aware of it. And we are taking steps to address it." says FBI spokeswoman Sandy Breault, "The most important thing is do not pay the money. Do not fall victim to these type of people. It`s a scam and paying the money is not going to get you off the website."
Because it`s an ongoing investigation, the FBI can`t tell us much about what they know. They warn against paying the money though because then the administrators will have more personal information about you. What we know is the site has been up and down for a few weeks now...but it still posts the names of people like Huchinson...and their names can be found on the site using common search engines. That`s why he`s talking to us.
"I guess I`d rather have it out there and let everybody out there know that this is a bunch of crap rather than people talk behind my back. Giving me a dirty look walking down the street or in the store. Or any of my friends friends." he says.
We sent several e-mails to the administrators of the site, but no one ever got back to us.
The FBI is asking victims, like Huchinson, to be patient...they`re working on shutting the site down. But huchinson says that can`t happen soon enough. Every day the site is up, he says, his reputation becomes more tarnished. "Really it`s worth trashing somebody`s name just to get a hundred dollars?" he asks, "I mean how pathetic are you? Just a worthless...most worthless type person."
If your name appears on the site, you will receive an e-mail from the administrators asking for $100 to have it removed. The FBI asks that you report it here.
They also remind you, you can find a listing of real sex offenders in your neighborhood on the Iowa Sex Offender Registry.