Special Report: Are you safe from sex offenders online? - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Special Report: Are you safe from sex offenders online?

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
MS Attorney General Jim Hood    Source: WLBT MS Attorney General Jim Hood Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - For the last decade, instead of meeting people face to face, those looking for a date have opted to go online. Although dating online comes with some success stories, there are also some risks. 

"I've tried Plenty of Fish, I've tried e Harmony," said Avis Stringer, who has been online dating since 2009.  "I was specifically looking for someone to have good conversation with maybe attend festivals, concerts, plays." 

Stringer is currently active on Zooske, a free dating website that matches you based on a series of questions.

"If something doesn't seem right or something that they text or say, I love the delete button," Stringer explained.

Millions of people, like Stringer, use these websites and other social media avenues to meet new people.

And although Stringer is using it innocently, others are not.

"It is the new place to commit a crime,” said Mississippi Attorney General, Jim Hood. “The internet is filled with online predators. About three years ago one lady was murdered by someone she met online on an online dating service and you have to really be careful about that because there are a lot of people out there who are preying on others on the internet."

There are currently 8,490 registered sex offenders in Mississippi. Through research, we found quite a few of the offenders in Jackson and the metro area on social media sites.

"Wow that's kind of scary because one of the sites that I use,Zooske, there's three or four different ways that they verify that you're really who you say you are and one of the verification tools that they use is Facebook," Stringer explained.

There's no law in Mississippi that keeps sex offenders off these sites.

"There are no restrictions in the state of MS but they are required to disclose that information on their acknowledgement form once they register in the state of Mississippi," said Charlie Hill, Director of Mississippi Sex Offender Registry.

A form they could easily lie on.

"You don't know if they have a page or not so they don't really have to disclose it they are required to disclose it but if they don't disclose it we won't know if they have one or not," Hills said.

My photographer and I tried to ask those offenders who had current Facebook pages if they wrote it on their registration form… but in our quest, no one wanted to go on camera.

"There are first amendment issues," said Hood. "Those who are charged with a crime and convicted, the judge can put that as a condition."

So what's really keeping you protected?

"It would be great if some of the sites would put some sort of mechanism in to screen out sex offenders," said Stringer.  

Hood says a number of attorneys general have met with officials at Myspace and Facebook to develop some restrictions for sex offenders, but it's still difficult to monitor. 

"We found there was like 72,000 registered sexual offenders on Myspace at that time,” Hood explained. "It's a honesty system, so it's hard."

To make sure you're safe?

"Be careful. Just assume whoever you're dealing with on the internet is a bad guy and treat him as such until they prove otherwise," Hood said.

Something Stringer says she'll pay closer attention to.

"Safety is paramount to me, I want to meet people, but I also want to do it and be able to return home at night," said Stringer.

If a sex offender puts any false information on his or her registration form, Hill says they can face up to a $5,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison.

Officials say the best thing to do is your research and trust your gut

For a list of sex offenders in your area, go to the Mississippi Sex Offender Website.

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