By PHIL LaPADULA | Jun 8, 2:49 PM
The smiling young man in the muscle shirt looked like a good
After corresponding for about six hours on Manhunt.net,
Joshua Sacks decided to invite the handsome stranger to his home in Washington,
D.C., for some fun on the evening of April 12.
||Ray Wenzel, 35, was arrested April 21 in Philadelphia, accused of robbing gay men whom he met on internet dating sites. According to police, at least 15 to 20 gay men fell victim to Wenzel's scheme.|
But looks, and internet profiles, can be deceiving. Sacks'
dream date turned out to be a nightmare.
"Either he drugged me or I passed out," Sacks said.
"I think he may have given me GHB."
When he awoke, Sacks discovered that the stranger, who would
later be identified as Ray Wenzel, had left after allegedly stealing his Audi
convertible, his passport, credit cards and checks. Later that day, Wenzel
allegedly used Sacks' passport to cash a check.
On April 21, Philadelphia police arrested Wenzel, 35, after
an alleged crime spree that spanned at least two states and Washington, D.C.,
in which numerous gay men seeking sexual encounters or dates via the internet
were apparently victimized.
Wenzel faces charges of theft, possession of narcotics and
stealing a car, according to Beth Skala, public information officer for the
Philadelphia Police Department. At the time of his arrest, he was also wanted
on several other charges, including identity theft and credit card fraud, in
Washington, D.C., and Virginia, Skala said.
Most victims cruising sex sites
Wenzel is one of several suspected cyberspace predators
prowling internet dating sites for potential victims. In fact, law enforcement
officials say internet rip-off schemes related to sex and romance sites are
among the fastest growing segments of the overall online crime problem.
"We've definitely seen an increase in online dating
crimes in the past five years," said Sgt. Brett Parson, commander of D.C.
Police Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, who was involved in investigating the
Parson said gay victims of internet dating crimes are
"overwhelmingly men cruising for sex" on sites like Manhunt, as
opposed to the more relationship-oriented dating sites.
According to Parson, Wenzel is suspected of victimizing at
least 15 to 20 gay men. When Wenzel was arrested, police found driver's
licenses and other identification belonging to alleged victims in Florida,
Parson said. But it could not be confirmed through Florida authorities that
Wenzel was wanted for any crimes in the state at the time of his arrest.
In a November 2005 case, police arrested Brett Chasen Wolfe
in the lobby of an apartment building in Washington, D.C. Wolfe is also accused
of stealing credit cards from gay men he met on the Manhunt dating site.
The D.C. Police's Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit nabbed Wolfe
following a sting operation after an undercover agent contacted him on Manhunt
and arranged a meeting.
The alleged 'bear' robber
In August 2005, the Broward County Sheriff's Department in
Florida arrested Gregg A. Sullivan after he allegedly robbed a man he met in an
online dating site for gay men who identify as "bears" called
Sullivan is accused of stealing Ken Nyquist's wallet and
personal items, including his grandmother's 1905 championship swimming medal,
and using his credit card to purchase $112 worth of items at a grocery store.
In the Sullivan case, the computer the suspect used to
facilitate his alleged crime also created an electronic trail back to him.
After the alleged robbery, Nyquist went back online and contacted other
customers of Bear411.com. One of them provided authorities with Sullivan's full
name and address.
Sullivan was nabbed after he allegedly pawned Nyquist's
belongings, including the 1905 swimming medal. He was originally charged with
grand theft and dealing in stolen property. The grand theft charge has been
dropped and Sullivan is still awaiting trial on a charge of dealing in stolen
property, according to the Broward County State Attorney's Office. He was
released from jail after posting bond.
Parson said D.C. police have not detected any coordinated
effort or ring of criminals targeting gay men via internet dating sites.
"The cases we have seen have been individuals acting on
their own," he said.
Besides the robberies, people have been "raped and
rendered unconscious by drugs" after meeting people in online dating
sites, Parson said.
Anonymity attracts criminals
Parson said the anonymity of the internet is attractive to
both customers and criminals. He said many of those who use online dating and
hookup sites may be closeted gay men and may be reluctant to contact police
when they fall victim to crime.
"Someone who goes to a gay bar to meet people has some
level of comfort with their sexual orientation," Parson said. "There
is more chance that they will call the police."
Parson said the criminals are often technologically savvy.
They create profiles using fake information and other people's photos from
cyber cafes or public libraries, making them difficult to trace.
Stephan Adelson, a spokesperson for Manhunt.net, said the
company is limited in how it can respond to incidents because of liability and
"We get phone calls from all types of people making all
kinds of claims," Adelson said. "We could be put in a liable position
if someone's accusations are not substantiated."
Manhunt, however, does delete the profile of a suspected
criminal once the company receives a subpoena from the police, Adelson said.
But deleting a suspect's profile doesn't prevent an alleged
perpetrator from creating a new one. In Wenzel's case, for example, his account
with the screen name "OnTopofYoutoNite" was deleted March 30, 12 days
before he allegedly robbed Sacks. Adelson said the words "known
criminal" were noted in Wenzel's file.
But Wenzel created a new profile with the screen name
"DCupforFun." That profile was deleted April 15 after Manhunt
received information that Wenzel allegedly used someone else's credit card to
create the account, Adelson said.
Safe cruising tips
Adelson said Manhunt posts safe cruising tips on its website,
including leaving a trail behind if you decide to meet someone. Write down the
person's phone number, screen name and where and when you plan to meet the
individual, he suggested. Leave that information in a conspicuous place in your
Ask for more than one picture of your prospective date, Adelson said. Meet the person in a public place and have a friend know where
you're going. It's also a good idea to have a friend call you during the date.
Paul Bressen, spokesperson for the FBI Public Affairs Office,
said the agency has seen an "across-the-board increase" in crimes
targeting people who visit romance websites or personal ad sites based on
reports to the Internet Complaint Center (www.IC3.gov), a joint project of the
FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.
In addition to the hookup robberies, a rapidly growing scheme
involves a perpetrator gaining the confidence of someone through a romance
website and persuading him or her to ship stolen merchandise or cash bogus
Jon van Halsing, co-author of "Cyber Love's
Illusions," a book about internet romance scams, said many perpetrators
never even meet their victims. They often create phony profiles using photos
taken from modeling sites. The scammer, who usually resides in Nigeria or
Eastern Europe, persuades the victim to receive and ship stolen merchandise or
cash phony money orders.
"They'll target gay, straight or anything in
between," Halsing said. "Within a week, they'll be in love and
they'll say they want to come over and spend their lives with you."
Once they gain the victim's confidence, they'll ask their
target to cash a phony money order or to receive and ship what, unbeknownst to
the victim, is stolen merchandise.
"They claim they can't cash an American money order in
Nigeria," Halsing said.
The money order is usually not discovered to be a fake until
"Cyber Love's Illusions" includes detailed
psychological profiles of potential victims of internet romance crimes. Halsing
said some victims are actually hard-working, successful people who nevertheless
find themselves alone and missing something in their lives despite their business
"We call that the 'Captain America complex,'"
But perhaps the most vulnerable are people who have just been
through a breakup or other traumatic event.
"The next thing you know, here comes Prince Charming
over the internet," Halsing said.
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