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Police investigate Internet stalking

By Danielle Samaniego
Date: November 09, 2003

Cyber Crime OAKLEY - Police are investigating an Internet stalking case involving an Oakley woman who claims that someone has been providing her personal information to men via an online dating service.
The 29-year-old woman filed a police report Tuesday after being contacted by a man who said he thought the two had arranged a date for sex through Lavalife.com, an Internet dating service. A second man contacted the woman after what he thought was an online conversation with her on the Web site for a similar date the next day, Oakley Police Chief Jon Cox said. The victim said she is pretty sure someone who knows her set her up and said it has robbed every last bit of security that she had.

"You don't even have to own a computer to be the victim of an Internet crime any more," said the woman. The Times is not using her name because of the harassment involved in the case.

The woman reported to police that someone posing as her posted a personal profile on the Web site, detailing her physical attributes and the city she lives in, authorities said. The profile also stated that she was interested in a discreet encounter and conventional sex. The Lavalife.com Web site allows patrons to send a message to those who have a profile posted on the site. The message can be received by logging onto the site.

Both men who contacted the Oakley woman have been cooperating with police in their investigation. Neither man is considered a suspect, Cox said. Oakley police intend to hand the case over to the Contra Costa County high-tech crime investigations unit. It is considered a stalking case because the person or persons responsible is essentially providing the woman's personal information to others and using them as instruments to stalk her, Cox said. If convicted of the felony, they could face a $1,000 fine and up to a year in county jail or state prison, Cox said.

Detective Bob Redfern of the high tech crimes unit said in cases such as this, authorities usually try to track down suspects through their Web site e-mails, logons and other computer traceable actions. "Our biggest concern is that if people are using Internet chat rooms and online dating services, they should always be aware that these people may not be who they say they are," Cox said.

The Toronto, Canada-based Lavalife.com has attracted more than 4.6 million members since its inception five years ago, according to the company Web site. Lavalife.com features messaging capabilities and in-depth profiling but no personal information of any kind -- including names, phone numbers, addresses or e-mail addresses -- is available, officials said. Lavalife representatives said Thursday that all profiles are monitored to ensure no personal information is provided online, but people can give such information out to one another through private messaging.

"We encourage people not to share any private information in the beginning until they get to know someone," said Cecil Chandless, legal council for Lavalife Inc. "We monitor all the publicly posted profiles. If someone goes and puts a profile illegally or against our rules, as soon as we have a complaint about that source, the file is suspended. We don't monitor the private interaction, but if there's a complaint, then we go in and monitor it." When that happens, profiles are then banned from the site, Chandless said.

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