Online dating services and chat rooms advertise using testimonials of couples that met and married through the Internet. However, recent court cases have shown that predators can lurk behind the photos and the seemingly innocent profiles on the Websites.
(But for every one of those 'happy couples' there can be at least 10-20 horror stories that dating sites want covered up.)
In February 2006, a 25-year-old BYU student attempted to contact a 14-year-old girl, allegedly for sex, and was surprised to learn that the "girl" was an undercover police officer.
Sgt. Mike Brower, a member of the Utah County Sheriff's office who worked on the case, said incidents of rape occurring through online dating contacts are fairly high in Utah County, but wouldn't give any details on the statistics, saying doing so would be more harmful than helpful.
"I can't give you too many specifics," Brower said. "Basically what it does is educate the perpetrators instead of the public."
Brower attributes the county's high chat-room predation levels to its large population of children and good Internet access. Utah is among the top five states for households with computers and Internet access.
Brower said predators are generally, but not limited to, males from 20 to 60 years old and often have a history of viewing pornography or unlawfully contacting people. (Many are sub-criminal psychopaths or narcissists)
On the preventative side, Utah County has formed a task force that surfs the Internet to ensnare predators.
The officers get involved in chat rooms and see if they are contacted by anyone "predisposed to be talking dirty and wanting sex," Lieutenant Jerry Harper said.
Brower said the police force seeks out predators to protect the public before tragedy can strike.
"We want to get perpetrators before they get victims," Brower said. "We do it to protect the community."
To adults involved in chat rooms and online dating services, Lieutenant Douglas Edwards of the Orem Department of Public Safety said to use common sense.
When meeting someone online, common sense guidelines include meeting in public places and not giving out personal information.
"If it were my daughter, I would tell her not to meet someone online," Edwards said.
(kudos to Oneof Seven for this find!)