Behind the scenes: To catch an Internet predator

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - They prowl the internet trying to trick innocent children into meeting them. However, what these predators may not realize is the person they are chatting with may actually be a police officer.

Some of the faces of these suspected internet predators may seem familiar -- they've all been arrested in the past for sex crimes. Sandra Fucler, 49, is a convicted child sex offender who violated her probation; Michael Wright, 25, is a convicted sex offender who violated his probation for criminal sexual conduct; and Danny Hodnett, 40, is a convicted sex offender who was later arrested for a probation violation.

But members of the State Law Enforcement Division are working every day to prevent repeat sex offenders from targeting more children.

Britt Dove is a special agent in SLED's Computer Crime Center. His job is to weed out internet predators.

"It's scary to think these people are out there running around and just wide open can do this stuff," Dove said.

He adapts his online persona based on what he sees online and what the suspected predator wants to hear, he said.

"I've posed as males, females, young, old, a variety of things," Dove said. "Once you sit down, you just start trying to put yourself in the situation and think about how a child would respond to certain questions or statements."

Dove delves into the predators' world by going into char room and social networking sites to play games. Then he waits for a potential predator to make a move.

"If they want to be sarcastic, I'll be sarcastic. Sometimes flirtatious, flirtatious back," Dove said. "We'll just talk and kind of see which way they'd like to go with it."

Dove says he's sometimes asked if he's a cop and, legally, he does not have to confess that he is a member of law enforcement.

"There have been Supreme Court decisions that allow us to lie during interviews," he said.

Dove said internet predators have learned the lingo so they can chat with their young intended targets online. As a result, he had to learn the lingo so he could talk carry on the conversations. He went to the best place SLED could find to learn the acronyms and coded speak that make up some online conversations -- he went to schools to learn from the very children he was charged with protecting.

The training was successful, he says, and the result has sometimes led to very graphic conversations.

"They ask you for things to be sent to them such as photographs, videos. Sometimes in return they'll send graphic photographs and videos back," Dove said.

Sometimes the suspected predators push for more and ask for a face-to-face meeting.

"I've had it happen within a couple hours of talking to somebody and I've had it drag on for a year with somebody," he said.

But his hard work is paying off. The Attorney General's office has reported they have made 192 arrests since the state passed its internet predator law in 2004. Personally, Dove has a collection of mug shots of the suspected predators that were arrested after going to meet him.

"They get there, don't realize kind of what's going on. They're just in shock for a while after it," Dove said.

While SLED and the Attorney General's office are pleased with the number of arrests they have made in various internet stings, Dove said his work is far from done because, with the internet, it's always open season on children.

"I see it growing worse," he said. "Now it's just anybody online that could potentially be a suspect or a pedophile."

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