Sexual Exploitation and Scammers
Since the country shut down, many folks have been stuck at home with an empty schedule and nothing but free time. Some are addressing long-ignored fix-it projects. Others are reading through the books piled on their nightstands. I have been doing a lot more cooking than usual. Several people who have called me in the past few weeks, though, have tried using this time of social distancing to make a love connection, which has left them vulnerable in ways they did not expect.
A scenario I have encountered again and again in the past few weeks involves men who are afraid that they are going to be charged with a crime for having inappropriate chats with people who are underage. Often the story starts with a flirty discussion on an internet platform advertised as a place exclusively for people who are of age. The man talks with someone who sends an explicit photo or video. Soon after that, someone contacts the man claiming to be the father of the person who sent the selfie.
The father says that the sender is underage and the man committed a serious crime. The father explains that he caught his daughter and that she now needs expensive therapy. He says that while he could go to the police, he would rather have some help paying the medical bills.
The man who was looking for love did not set out to break the law. He was not looking to be a predator. He feels badly for what he has done, and he feels trapped. Maybe he pays once or a few times. The father is only asking for a couple hundred dollars. The call, though, will not be the last and neither will the payment.
There are many variations on this theme. Sometimes the call comes not from the father, but from a detective. He understands how this mistake could have happened. He can’t just ignore it, though. There is a child who needs therapy. If the man makes good on it, the detective assures him this will all go away.
What I am describing are, of course, scammers. The problem is that receiving explicit photos of underage people is a serious crime in North Carolina. Third-Degree Sexual Exploitation is a Class H felony carrying up to 39 months in prison. Mistake of age is NOT a defense. It really could be the police on the phone. The photo really could be a 16-year-old. Sometimes the con is amateurish and obvious. Other times, though, it is impossible to know. The price of getting that wrong could be your reputation, your freedom, and everything else you have worked your entire life to build.
Either way, it’s not something that you should try to navigate on your own. We know how to deal with the police and with scammers. We can protect your rights, reputation, and resources no matter who is harassing you. When we are hired in these cases, we reach out directly to the “father” or the “detective.” We act as a shield between the accuser, whether a fraudulent or real. We can chase away scammers or protect you from saying something to the police what would hurt you.