CWD Investigation: Exploring the dark side of online dating sites and apps
09/21/2015 10:20 am PDT
Matt Doran reports.
Crime Watch Daily investigates: Would you go into a Vegas hotel room alone with a stranger you just met on a dating app?
Millions of single people are looking for a relationship using dating sites and apps. But there's a dark side to online hookups that may be putting men and women in peril. Matt Doran went to Las Vegas for a scary social experiment in a Crime Watch Daily investigation.
Online dating has become a boom industry, grossing more than $4 billion a year, making it even an bigger money spinner than porn, with 38 percent of all American singles looking for a relationship using dating sites and apps. But as we discovered there's a dark side to it that's putting women in peril.
A Crime Watch Daily undercover investigation has found that many women are playing a dangerous game of "romantic Russian Roulette" on Internet dating sites and apps like Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, Zoosk, OKCupid and POF.
Tinder users can swipe their way through more than 1.6 billion profiles every day. More than 8 billion matches have been made since Tinder launched three years ago.
Chris Powers, a popular online personality known for his provocative social experiments on YouTube, helped us learn just how reckless some women could be. Way too trusting for their own safety, according to online dating crime statistics that show Internet predators are committing more than 16,000 abductions, 100 murders and thousands of rapes each year across America.
And here's one more disturbing statistic: a staggering 10 percent of all known sex offenders use online dating services as their private hunting ground.
"The danger is sometimes there is very little conversation taking place and very little background checking," said Powers.
A case in point in Gainesville, Florida, where our affiliate station WJXT Jacksonville reports that 27-year-old Gerard Roberts was charged with raping a young woman on a blind date after police had already received stalking complaints about him from women on the mega-popular dating app Tinder.
And there are a lot of other creepy guys out there in the world of "cyberdating."
In Denver, Colorado, our affiliate station KDVR reports 29-year-old Darren Auger is behind bars, accused of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old woman he'd met on Tinder.
Also in Denver, KDVR reports a man posing as a rock musician named "John" on Tinder turned out to be a thief whose real name was Kenneth David Burrell. He allegedly robbed the home of a woman he'd met on an online blind date.
"You have tons and tons of strangers sharing all sorts of details, intimate, sending pictures, sending private information, and it's all available to strangers, with very little proof of you being who you are or what your real intentions are," said Powers.
Our online dating expert Chris Powers agreed to be a decoy in an undercover operation Crime Watch Daily set up to find how many young women would throw caution to the wind for a blind date with a guy they know nothing about, except that he's good looking and charming.
We conducted the operation in Las Vegas, which poses a higher danger level than most other cities for young female online daters because it attracts a high number of out-of-town men looking for some action.
Powers went to work on Tinder looking for local women willing to meet him in his hotel suite.
We set up hidden cameras with microphones stretching from the hotel lobby to the elevator, the hallway leading to the suite, and inside the suite itself. And Powers has been hard at work looking for dates on Tinder.
"So far I have 70 matches," said Powers.
Matt Doran: "Some of these women have actually already handed you out their physical address."
Chris Powers: "Yeah. One of them wanted to get together. She said she didn't want to drive -- I said 'I'll pick you up,' and I asked where she lived and she just flat out gave me the address."
Now Powers has found the first young woman who is willing to come right to his door.
"I pretty much just said 'Why don't we go out to eat or something, come over to my hotel, we'll have a couple of drinks in my room and then we'll go out from there,'" said Powers.
"But not even much communication?"
"I didn't really reveal anything about myself," said Powers.
Of the hundred young women Powers has just met on Tinder, several have given him their addresses and invited him to come over and take them out on a date, and two have actually agreed to come right to his hotel.
"They're not even questioning it," said Powers. "And if they do question it for a second, it takes very little to get them to change their mind, and think, 'Oh, I was so silly to think anything bad could happen.'"
Powers has gone down to the lobby to meet the first girl of the evening, who's come here to meet him. They've been chatting for just a matter of hours, really, and she's quite comfortable. She says she's happy to come over here and come upstairs to his hotel room.
"Vera" [not her real name] is right on time. After Powers finds her and introduces himself, Vera walks through the lobby with him to take the elevator up to his suite for pre-dinner drinks.
Doran: "Was there any hesitation? Obviously you were pretty quick to bring her up to your room here."
Powers: "No, there was no hesitation when we met. I just walked right into the elevator, walked right up."
Powers could be an ax murder or serial rapist for all Vera knows. And she has no idea what could await her behind the door.
Doran: "To be honest I really am grappling with the situation these women are walking into. These are intelligent, worldly women who are letting their emotions cloud their judgment. But that is precisely the process these predators are relying on. In many ways I am torn because I recognize it would be really confronting to walk into a room full of cameras, but I also feel passionate about demonstrating their decisions could be deadly."
As Powers and Vera come through the door, she is obviously surprised to see our cameras, but soon understands our intentions are well-meaning and seems OK about talking to us.
Doran: "You've just taken a big risk. You've known Chris for only a few hours and you're prepared to come up to a room with what could have been anyone in this room, right?"
"Yeah, I guess so," said Vera.
"What was going through your mind? Was it a risk you were taking?"
"No, I've done it before and it's been fine," said Vera.
"You've heard of horror stories of course."
"Oh yeah," said Vera.
"All over the world, women are getting robbed, attacked and worse using dating apps like this. It's not something you worry about on the way here at all?"
"I don't know," said Vera. "I told him I was nervous."
But not nervous enough.
Powers has a second Tinder date lined up now with "Hazel" [not her real name], who is even more reckless than Vera.
"Yesterday we got matched, started texting today, but the whole plan all along was, hey, come up to the room, we'll have a couple of drinks, then go out," said Powers.
No meeting in the lobby necessary this time.
"Didn't take much to persuade her," said Powers. "I was who I said I was, that it's going to be a safe situation."
So Hazel comes right to the room. Like Vera, Hazel is shocked to find cameras waiting for her, but is fine speaking with us.
Doran: "What you've done is walk into a room with a complete stranger that you've never seen. What's your reaction now -- were you worried about coming up here?"
"A little bit, yeah," said Hazel.
"Did you hesitate on the way here? Is it something you would do again?"
"I mean, I've done it before, not with a complete stranger, someone I've seen over Facetime, so it wasn't that big a deal," said Hazel.
"So how do you feel about it now? Is it something you would do again?"
"Probably not, if this was the outcome," said Hazel.
"Do you have a message for other girls who'd be considering doing this kind of thing?"
"Just do it at your own risk," said Hazel. "If you feel comfortable do it. If not, don't"
"Is there something Chris said to you to convince you to come along?"
"He just seemed like a humble guy. Just didn't seem like he meant a lot of harm," said Hazel. "He said he was moving here so I would never meet up with someone who was from out of town. Just staying for a couple of nights."
Even Powers couldn't believe he'd talked Hazel into coming straight to his room.
"She was very trusting," said Powers.
Doran: "And for me that really is a frightening illustration of some of the techniques these predators might use on Tinder and other dating sites."
So we can only hope that young women watching this story will take it as a cautionary tale and be very careful out there in the treacherous waters of "cyberdating."