July 9, 2014 By Stephen Klarich

5 Tips to Safely and Legally Use Online Dating Apps

Child Pornography

The world of online dating has taken a dramatic turn over the last several years. It used to require setting up elaborate and detailed accounts through match.com or one of the few other reputable websites. The very thought of using these websites likely seemed foreign or a little bit strange to many at the time.

Now, having one of the many easy-to-use dating apps on your phone is commonplace. Apps such as Tinder, Grindr, OKCupid, and Plenty of Fish, all connect the dating world with the tap of a finger. Many of these apps do not require you to provide legitimate verification of your age or personal information. The younger generation now has easy access to meeting complete strangers through simple apps such as these. Therein lies the problem.

20 million people are using these dating sites and apps, which is more than double the number five years ago.1Unfortunately, dating sites really have no incentive to regulate their members.2 While online dating is generally safe, you still run the risk of violating laws related to preying on minors, sexual assault, and even prostitution. You can’t run a background check on every person you interact with online, but you can take some steps to protect yourself…

  1. Avoid sexting at all costs.

“Sexting,” in today’s world of online dating and communication in general, is the practice of sending a nude or semi-nude photo of yourself by cell phone to another person.3 This is especially common among teenagers throughout the country.

The law has not caught up to the ease at which sexting is done. With the click of your finger, you can easily and frequently send a nude photo to another person. Unfortunately, teens under the age of 18 who are “sexting” one another are committing a criminal offense of child pornography.

If you are an adult, engaging in sexting puts you at risk for sending these graphic images to a minor. Since you cannot be certain how old the other person is through these dating apps, you should avoid exchanging nude or sexually suggestive images altogether.

Under California Penal Code Section  311.4, an adult who exchanges material showing a person under 18 engaging in sexual activity can result in a sentence of $2,000 in fines and up to one year in county jail, or both.4

  1. As an adult, always ask for age first.

Although you may not be 100% certain of how old the person you are communicating with actually is, asking his or her age is a good place to start. The last thing you want to do is to find yourself facing criminal charges for arranging to meet with a minor with the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct.

Solicitation of a minor is a serious crime in California. Under Penal Code Section 288.4, if you are convicted of soliciting a minor, you can face a fine of $5,000 or up to one year in county jail, or both on your first offense5. In addition, if you and the minor live in different states, and you arrange to meet with the minor with the intent to engage in sexual activity, you are exposed to facing federal charges. The consequences for facing federal prosecution are more harsh and more expensive.

You do not even have to commit the sexual act for charges to be brought against you. Simply using the Internet to meet up with a minor could be enough to warrant a felony charge.6 However, if you ask the other person his or her age, you can avoid the situation altogether. Clearly, if their response is that they are 17 or younger, you should end all communication immediately.

If a minor disguises himself or herself as an adult, you are not completely off the hook. However, it is your responsibility as an adult to leave no stone unturned when trying to find the true age of someone who you wish to engage in any sort of relationship.

  1. Understand that no means no.

This clearly goes without saying, but it is equally important in the world of online dating. The act of stalking under California Penal Code Section 646.9 is considered willfully and knowingly harassing another person.7 If you are alarming, annoying, or tormenting somebody by continuing to send them messages via text or a dating app, you can be charged with cyberstalking.

Cyberstalking can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. For a misdemeanor stalking charge, you can face:

  • Up to one year in county jail;
  • Up to $1,000 in fines; and
  • A restraining order.8

For a felony stalking or cyberstalking charge, the consequences are more severe, including:

  • Up to five years in California state prison; and
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.

This is why it is extremely important that you respect the boundaries of your online counterpart. If he or she expresses a desire to end communication, make sure to respect his or her decision. You should quickly and respectfully end your communication with him or her and move on.

  1. Present yourself in an accurate light.

Studies have shown that 80% of online profiles through Tinder, OkCupid, or other dating sites contain inaccuracies about personal information.9 Men tend to add height and women tend to take away weight. If you can provide accurate information on your personal account, you can avoid disappointing the other person. Although lying about your appearance is not necessarily a crime, it is always best to start any relationship with honesty.

  1. Be wary of prostitutes using these apps.

Prostitutes have infiltrated the world of online dating apps to increase their business. Apps such as Tinder, OKCupid, Grindr, and Plenty of Fish, make it almost impossible to tell who is a prostitute and who is not.

Most of these apps are essentially just a person’s picture and a short bio about himself or herself if they choose. In fact, completing a bio is not even required on any of these apps. Moreover, a prostitute is unlikely to come out and say that he or she is a prostitute in his or her profile.

If a prostitute begins speaking to you through a dating app, look for the warning signs. His or her pictures are probably very promiscuous. The pictures may also appear to be professionally taken or out of a magazine. Most importantly, as soon as you begin a conversation regarding an exchange of money for sex, you should end communication and not act any further.

If you are convicted of engaging in prostitution in California, you could be facing six months in county jail or a $1,000 fine, or both, pursuant to California Penal Code Section 647(b)10

Call the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today

There are many ways that using online dating apps can land you in a world of trouble. Regardless of your intentions, what you send, how you communicate, and who you are communicating with can lead to criminal charges. As the laws continue to try and catch up to our technology, it is important that you take the necessary precautions. If you are facing criminal allegations relating to your actions on an online dating site or app, it is vital that you seek help from an experienced attorney. Our attorneys at Wallin and Klarich have represented clients facing such charges for over 30 years.

With offices located in Orange County, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Torrance, Riverside, West Covina, Victorville, Ventura, San Diego and Sherman Oaks, one of our attorneys is available to help you no matter where you live.

Call us at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 to discuss your case. We will get through this together.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/us/19date.html?_r=0

2. Id.

3. http://www.isba.org/ibj/2010/04/sextingitsnojokeitsacrime

4.  http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/311.4.html

5. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=pen&group=00001-01000&file=281-289.6

6. http://criminal-law.freeadvice.com/criminal-law/violent_crimes/solicitation-of-a-minor.htm

7. http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/646.9.html

8. Id.

9.  https://www.privacyrights.org/perils-and-pitfalls-online-dating-how-protect-yourself

10.  http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/647.html

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