A college student hoping to catch pedophiles ensnared a California police officer — and all it took was a fake Tinder profile and Snapchat’s gender-swapping photo filter, NBC Bay Area reports.
The 20-year-old student, who lives south of San Francisco, told police he set up a profile on the phone-based dating app using the name “Esther,” along with a picture of himself that he had altered on Snapchat to feminize his features and add long hair, according to the TV station.
San Mateo Police Officer Robert Davies, 40, chatted with the owner of the fake profile over Tinder on May 11, and eventually the pair moved their conversation to Kik, a messaging platform, according to the San Jose Police Department. That’s when “Esther” claimed to be a 16-year-old, which Davies acknowledged, police said.
From there the conversation moved to Snapchat, where age was again discussed, and where the pair “chatted about engaging in sexual activity,” police said.
The person using the fake account — who figured out he was talking to an area police officer — alerted Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers on May 11, police said.
Detectives started investigating on May 13 and found that “the tipster created a fictitious Tinder account as a 19 year-old female, but filtered the profile photo to appear as a young girl,” according to San Jose police. Police also said the man using the fake profile “was aware Tinder does not allow accounts for juveniles.”
NBC identified the man who created the fake account only as Ethan, saying he feared retaliation.
“I believe he messaged me, ‘Are you down to have some fun tonight?’ and I decided to take advantage of it,” Ethan told NBC, adding that “I was just looking to get someone … He just happened to be a cop.”
Davies was arrested in Morgan Hill on felony charges of contacting a minor to commit a felony, San Jose police said. The department got a warrant for his arrest June 6.
“Whether or not the person is 16 is irrelevant,” said Sgt. Enrique Garcia, according to KTVU. “If the suspect believes it’s a 16-year-old on the other end, the suspect should have terminated that conversation — specifically when it talks about engaging in sexual activity.”
Davies was booked at the Santa Clara County Jail, police said.
Authorities said they’re looking for more victims. Police asked anyone with relevant information to contact Detective Michael O’Grady at (408) 537-1397.
San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer said in a statement that the “alleged conduct, if true, is in no way a reflection of all that we stand for as a Department, and is an affront to the tenets of our department and our profession as a whole,” the San Mateo Daily Journal reported.
San Jose police said they searched Davies’ home to remove electronics and other evidence.
“I saw them come out with things that looked like computers,” said neighbor Dwight Ennis, according to KTVU. “I saw them come out with brown paper bags full of evidence.”