"Wired child molesters a serious problem in Michigan

Many on sex offender registry using MySpace,

other social networking sites"



May 13, 2010

LANSING — Convicted sex offender Adrian Hill is not the only Michigan resident convicted of sexual crimes against children who is involved in social networking. A private investigator who has tracked sex offenders on MySpace says there are likely hundreds more people convicted of crimes against children who are using social networking sites to meet people — and Michigan law does not prevent them from doing so.

Take the case of a west Michigan man convicted in 2002, at age 22, of attempted Criminal Sexual Conduct 3rd Degree with a victim between 13 and 15 years of age. Like Adrian Hill, this offender is not compliant with registration laws according to the Michigan State Police Sex Offender Registry.

But this offender and his failure to comply with registration rules has not stopped him from using a MySpace.com account. There, his profile page introduces him as “the one your mother warned you about.” His account shows he has 11 friends, including the site’s founder, Tom. Of the 10 other friends, two are men, and the remainder are women. The women range in age from 39 to 14. Two of the women are 17, one is 18.

An investigation by Steven Rambam, a private detective with Pallorium, an international investigative firm in New York City, has uncovered and verified the identity of over 200 registered sex offenders from Michigan’s sex offender registry currently using MySpace.com — and that was just a partial search, ended after they found the first couple hundred.

Rambam, more widely known for his extensive history as a Nazi hunter, shared the results of that investigation last week with Michigan Messenger, as well as his methodology for verifying the identities of probable matches.

Because he also shared that information with the office of Attorney General Mike Cox, the Michigan Messenger is not revealing the identities of any of the sex offenders so as not to interfere with any possible criminal investigation. John Selleck, spokesman for Attorney General Mike Cox, did not return multiple calls by the Michigan Messenger seeking comment.

While some of the offenders identified were not compliant with requirements from the state in relation to the registry, others were in violation of terms of their parole or probation which prohibited them from using a computer or the internet. But the vast majority of the offenders are not violating any law, Rambam explained, noting the state of Michigan does not make it a crime for convicted sex offenders to use social networking websites.

But state Rep. Joe Haveman, a Republican from Holland, says he wants to change that. He introduced legislation in 2009 to make it a crime for a registered sex offender to have a social networking account. His bill would make it a five year felony for a person convicted of a crime against a minor, or a person the convicted offender thought was a minor, to become involved in or use social networking sites which allow minors to have accounts or access.

“The first responsibility should always fall on the parents to make sure they know what their kids are involved in, but in today’s world that just becomes increasingly difficult,” Haveman said. “We are not saying it’s the state’s job to monitor what kids are doing on their computers — that should be the parent’s responsibility — this is just an added safeguard. We know that people who have had convictions, who have been involved in crimes against minors — that they should stay off [social networking sites on the internet].”

No action has been taken on Haveman’s bill other than referring it to the appropriate committee.
Haveman admits the legislation would not exclude those convicted of so-called Romeo and Juliet crimes — a situation wherein high school sweethearts who were within three years of each other’s age engage in consensual sexual activity — would not be excluded under this legislation.
“Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go back to that Romeo and Juliet and see if specifically that should be changed as part of the sexual registry and other issues,” Haveman said. “I just don’t think this bill is the place to do it.”

State Rep. Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge, says he supports the Haveman bill and wants to pass it as quickly as possible.

“It’s a huge concern. I truly believe that a convicted sex offender — especially a convicted child molester — should not be able to get on social networks such as Facebook and MySpace and contact children and make dates,” says Jones, the former Eaton County Sheriff.

Though there is no evidence that any of these offenders has engaged in inappropriate activity with minors through these accounts, Jones cited photographs and messages on the MySpace accounts saying, “It’s obvious … to me they’re attempting to attract people, especially children.”
Rambam’s investigation shows that steps previously announced by MySpace intended to fix the problem of convicted pedophiles using their site have not worked.

MySpace in 2009 announced that it was turning over the identity of 90,000 registered sex offenders it had kicked off MySpace and blocked. That list was turned over to the Attorney General of Connecticut — but only after he issued a subpoena for the list.

In 2008, MySpace struck a deal with attorneys general from 49 states — Texas was a lone holdout — to strengthen its measures to remove sex offenders and to protect youth from predators. Under that agreement, the social network agreed to:

• Allow parents to submit a child’s email addresses to MySpace to prevent anyone
from misusing the addresses to set up profiles.

• Make the default setting “private” for 16- and 17-year-old users so they cannot be
viewed by adults they don’t already know.

• Respond within 72 hours to complaints about inappropriate content and devote
more staff and resources to classify photographs and discussion groups.

• Strengthen software against underage users.

• Create a high school section for users under 18 years old.

In 2007, MySpace cracked down on registered sex offenders. In May of that year, the company claims it removed 7,000 offenders and in June it says it identified and removed an additional 29,000 registered sex offenders.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued a subpoena for the names and MySpace identities of the offenders from Michigan the company removed in 2007. He then posted that list on his website. He also sought criminal action against 4 of the 200 offenders MySpace identified, because they were in violation of the terms of their parole or probation.

MySpace says it employs Sentinel SAFE software, which reviews 120 digital information points on MySpace profiles with a national database of sex offenders.

“MySpace uses software it helped to develop called Sentinal SAFE to run its member profiles against a database of more than 700,000 known sex offenders. The technology ties together all the various state sex offender registries. It compares 120 different points of identification—including name, date of birth, photo, scars, and tattoos—to make a positive match and block those members from registering again. The Sentinel software is how MySpace identified those 90,000 blocked sex offenders.”

Rambam, the New York detective, challenges the accuracy and effectiveness of the Sentinel SAFE program. In case after case, Rambam showed Michigan Messenger the MySpace profiles and sex offender registry information of various registered sex offenders. All of those MySpace profiles were identified after a program searched through MySpace and the Michigan registry, pulling down photographs and personal information — such as name, age and location — which matched information on the sex offender database.

Rambam then went through each set of probable matches and compared photographs and other information publicly available. He says this method has about a 10 percent failure rate, and he is quite conservative on which profiles he identifies as hard matches. Those matches not only must line up with personal information, but the photographs must clearly show a match as well. To make sure he had 200 solid matches, Rambam stopped reviewing the probable hits after he confirmed 225 matches.

The private investigator faults MySpace for not taking prompt action. “Unequivocally, they could [remove all sex offenders] by this time next month,” he says. “They have to make a conscious decision to do that.”

Rambam says the real issue is that MySpace relies on a business model built entirely on being able to pitch the “eyeballs” of its millions of users. Removing all the sex offenders from the social network could cost the company “the ability to make millions of dollars” in advertising revenues.

MySpace officials did not return multiple email requests for comment on this story and Rambam’s allegations. Instead the company issued a blanket statement from January 2010 which outlines “some of the things” MySpace has done to protect MySpace users. Much of that content deals with spam and phishing incidents which lead to online identity theft.

Only one area in the statement addresses sex offenders specifically. MySpace says it has supported legislation to require registered sex offenders to provide all their email addresses to law enforcement as a condition of registration. MySpace says such email databases can be used to filter out registered sex offenders.

Facebook, on the other hand, in response to an inquiry from Michigan Messenger, provided a link to its terms of service. Those rules specifically prohibit a registered sex offender from being a member of the Facebook community. The company also said it employs multiple staff members to review questionable activity identified by the company’s software.

Such activity includes an inordinate number of friend request denials, friending a large number of people of the same gender or friending a large number of youth. The company also works with law enforcement to identify sex offenders and criminal activity and will immediately eliminate accounts of sex offenders — as long as it does not compromise an investigation by law enforcement.

Rep. Jones agrees that MySpace is not doing enough. “I do not believe MySpace is removing sex offenders,” he told the Michigan Messenger. “They’re in the job of marketing their services for profit and I doubt they are taking the time to properly do it — at least it doesn’t appear [that way], from what I have seen.”



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