A private citizen is trying to protect children online, and he’s taking unusual steps to do it.
NBC Connecticut spoke to the founder of a controversial vigilante site that helped tip off authorities about racy conversations a West Hartford man allegedly had with what he thought was a teenage girl.
Wearing a mask and only wanting to be called “Incognito” the man we met at a Bristol park said he posed as a young girl online led police to the arrest of 39-year-old Scott Backer.
According the arrest warrant, Backer thought he was chatting with 15-year-old girl, but he was actually talking to 29-year-old Incognito, who was pretending to be a young girl.
“There are risks that are involved,” said POP Squad Founder “Incognito.”
“I never contact them first. They always contact me first. I let them guide the whole conversation,” said Incognito.
The arrest warrant states that Incognito posed as “Emily” on the social media app called Yik Yak.
The warrant details messages between Backer and “Emily” saying things like the following:
Backer – “I have to be careful”
Backer – “Too much to lose”
Emily – “like what?”
Backer – “Jail???!!!!”
In another conversation, “Emily” tells Backer that she is online
Emily – “I’m really 15. I”ll be 16 in a couple months. Is that okay?”
Backer – “of course,”
“I let them know within the first five messages I am a minor. If they continue the conversation we move over to texting, we move over to a messaging app, and we set up a meet,” said Incognito.
Officers say Backer’s “meet” happened at a Walmart in Cromwell back in January. Incognito says he recorded the encounter with a chest-harnessed GoPro. Then posted the video on his website, POPSquadCC. POP stands for prey on predators.
Attorney Jim Bergenn says Incognito’s methods are in fact legal.
“If he poses as a 15-year-old girl and people come to him, no entrapment,” said Bergenn.
Police warned that Incognito’s acts are dangerous.
“We have contingency plans put in place. We have safety plans put in place. We pick certain places so the public is not jeopardized,” said West Hartford Police Sgt. Tony Anderle.
Incognito said one of his videos prompted an investigation into a Plainville High School teacher who has not been charged but ended up resigning.
Police told NBC Connecticut they discourage what Incognito does, but Incognito said he’ll continue doing it.
“There’s a lot of guys out here who are creeping in the shadows,” said Incognito.
Backer has been charged with use of computer to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity. He has bonded out on $150,000.
Police said parents are the first defense from online predators – and if they have concerns about their child, to contact authorities as soon as they can.