Thursday, May 26, 2005

Access to Dating Service Easy; Company Officer Used Doesn't Verify Ages

By T.J. Wilham, Journal Staff Writer

The telephone dating service that was used by a decorated Albuquerque police officer to meet a 14-year-old girl he allegedly raped is easy to get on to.
All you need is a phone.
Live Links has a promotion that allows callers to sign up on a trial basis without paying any money. To sign up, callers do not have to give a credit card number, name, age, or address to start talking to another caller.
Female callers do not have to pay at all, even after trying it out.
On Tuesday, Albuquerque police arrested undercover vice officer Timothy Chavez, 33, on charges of kidnapping and criminal sexual penetration. Chavez, who was released by posting a $75,000 bond Wednesday, could not be reached for comment.
He is accused of meeting the girl on Live Links on April 22, asking if he could come over to her house and then allegedly raping her, according to court records.
The girl did not know who Chavez was until a month later when she saw him at a northeast restaurant and called police.
Live Links officials said Wednesday they have procedures in place to screen juveniles from getting onto the service.
A recorded notice on the service tells anyone younger than 18 years old to hang up. The company also has monitors who listen to recorded profiles and a hot line parents can call to have their phone numbers blocked from using the service.
"We are looking for people to meet people. We are not looking for people who want to meet little kids," said Sid Methner, business development manager for the Vancouver-based company. "We have a popular service, and kids like to spread it around school like it is a fad. ... Our question is where were her parents? That is the issue. That is the first line of defense against this."
Methner said the company is conducting an investigation into how the girl was able to get onto the service.
"Nobody wants to see this happen," he said. "This is not a service we want."
Albuquerque police officials said Wednesday that throughout his 13-year career Chavez received numerous awards and accommodations.
"It is saddening for any officer that has served with distinction and now faces grievous charges," said John Walsh, an APD spokesman. "But it is deeply saddening that there is a young person who has fallen victim to this type of crime."
In 1997, Chavez received a Medal of Meritorious Service from APD, according to Albuquerque police. In 1998, Chavez was presented with the Law Enforcement Officer/Hero of the Year Award by then-Mayor Jim Baca, according to Journal news reports. Police officials said Wednesday they do not have any record of that award, and it is not the department's official "Officer of the Year" award. But APD said there was only one Timothy Chavez on its roster at that time.
Chavez received the 1998 award for his involvement in thwarting a bank robbery while moonlighting at the bank. According to news reports, Chavez shot the would-be robber, who was holding a hostage at gunpoint.
Preventing teenagers from using a dating service such as Live Links is not easy, law enforcement officials said.
And Live Links legally did nothing wrong because it has the disclaimer, said Michael Cox, director of special prosecutions for the New Mexico Attorney General's Office.
"You can't shut them down because they do not have an affirmative way to screen minors," Cox said. "Is it a problem, I would say yes, but there is no factual way to check someone's identification over the telephone or a computer."
To get onto the service, the automated system asks for the person's gender and a promotional code, which is available to anyone who goes to the Live Links online site.
The caller is asked to record a profile and then listens to profiles of potential dates.
The company has local numbers in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.
City police detectives said that within the past nine years they have received only one complaint about a dating service. That came from a parent who was upset that their son had met an adult man over a telephone dating service in 1996.
"Parents need to be involved with their kids' lives as much as possible," said Don Roberts, a detective with the APD child exploitation unit. "Kids are smart. They are going to figure out how to get in. Not every 15- or 16-year-old kid is going to go, 'oh my gosh' and hang up (when they hear the disclaimer)."
Bob Hoever, deputy director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said dating services such as Live Links need to have some sort of a "safeguard" in place to screen children.
He recommended that the company require the use of credit cards.
"You really don't know who is on the other end, and sometimes the phone gives you a false sense of security," Hoever said.
Live Links, which has been in business since 1990, advertises on television, the Internet and in newspapers.
Methner said requiring callers to submit a credit card is not going to keep kids away. He said children will still find a way.
Methner said parents can call 1 (800) 984-6889 to have their home phone number blocked from using Live Links.

No comments: