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Florida police pose as minors online to trap alleged predators

When people log on to their computer or the Internet, many believe that they are doing so in the privacy of their home and behind a curtain of anonymity. People may engage in behaviors or say things online that they normally wouldn't do in person or when using their real name and information. 

However, people who are involved in illegal or unlawful activity online are unpleasantly surprised to learn that law enforcement agents may be monitoring their online exchanges. Police and federal authorities may even be encouraging or facilitating this behavior behind a disguise of their own in order to identify and arrest people who they believe are involved in misconduct such as Internet sex crimes. This is often the case when police pose as minors online.

Recently, Florida authorities arrested 18 men who are accused of chatting online with people they believed to be teen or preteen girls and then traveling to meet them. After chatting with the girls, the men traveled to meet them at a specific location. When the men arrived, however, they were met by authorities ready to arrest them.

These sting operations are common tactics used by law enforcement agencies. For years, they have devoted significant resources, time and money on efforts to set up these operations to identify and engage people who may think they are acting anonymously online. In order to make these efforts pay off, authorities will generally arrest as many people as they can and file as many charges as they can. 

In the most recent sting, police also went through some of the men's phones and computers and allegedly found child pornography and other incriminating materials, which added to the list of charges the men faced.

It is likely that the men in this sting and other people in a similar situation are quite frightened, ashamed and embarrassed when they are caught up in these operations. However, it can be crucial to remember that every person has the right to defend themselves against criminal charges. Being accused of sexual misconduct is not the same as being convicted, though both can have devastating consequences on a person's life. In order to try and minimize these penalties and challenge the charges, people who have been arrested for similar offenses may want to strongly consider discussing their case with an attorney.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Pinellas child predator sting nets 18 men," Laura C. Morel, April 14, 2014

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