The murder of D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts has focused attention on a growing problem -- suspects looking to rob victims they meet on telephone sex chat lines.
In the past few months, there have been attacks on victims in Prince William County, Va.; Silver Spring, Md.; and southeast Washington. Police are not saying any of these attacks are related, but they seem to be strikingly similar.
An unidentified man is accused of robbing a 28-year-old man at gunpoint after meeting him on a gay chat line, according to Prince William County Police. The Prince William County incident happened on April 12 near the dead end of Colton Lane in Manassas, Va. There's also a vague description for a second suspect involved.
In another separate incident, this time in southeast D.C., a man was robbed, shot and killed by a man police say he met on a gay chat line. Suspects have been arrested and charged in the Southeast and Silver Spring cases.
Police are asking for the help in finding the two suspects in the Prince William case.
Experts who operate telephone and web-based meeting sites said there are three golden rules. If you are going to meet a stranger, tell a friend, check in with your contact within the first hour and meet in a public place. In almost every case in our region where there has been a robbery or violence, these rules were broken.
"When people meet in bars, it can lead to murder," said Jonathan Crutchley, who operates phone and web chat services with millions of users nationwide, including about 60,000 in the D.C. area. "When people meet online, it can lead to murder. It happens."
Authorities said many of the victims of robbery and fraud who met the suspect online or through a chat line don't report the crimes for fear of embarrassment.
District Police have published tips on staying safe when meeting people online. Click here to review those tips.