The teenagers’ scheme was straight out of NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.” After meeting an older man online and learning that he was “looking for under aged girls to have sex with,” they lured him to a Starbucks in the far-flung suburbs of San Diego, where they planned to expose him as a pedophile and hand him over to the police. On Sunday, when the sting was supposed to take place, things quickly spiraled out of control. The intended target, 32-year-old Robert Dreyfus, convinced one of the teens to get into his car “to talk,” the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said. Then, he drove off with the 17-year-old girl, the Washington Post reports.
Amateur sex stings targeting potential predators are a growing trend. Authorities are pointing to Sunday’s alleged kidnapping as a prime example of why they’re a bad idea. Though police soon came to the rescue — the 17-year-old managed to send a text message to her friends, who called 911 — officials warned that online vigilantes who try to stage public confrontations are putting themselves in serious danger. The social-media-fueled phenomenon has become a source of frustration for law enforcement officials nationwide. Inspired by the short-lived but popular NBC show, which was canceled in 2008 after a suspect committed suicide, “predator hunters” troll dating sites and apps favored by teens. Using fake photos and identities to pose as underage, they persuade their targets to meet them in a public place. The ensuing confrontation often is broadcast live on Facebook, with commenters rushing to identify the alleged predator.