PROVO — A steady diet of MTV is required for this job.
"You need to talk, act and spell like a young girl," said Utah County sheriff's detective Owen Shiverdecker, describing the tactics used by the Utah County Sex Crimes Task Force in impersonating young people on the Internet.
Many of those things, Shiverdecker said, led a 26-year-old man to believe he had met a teenager online in a chat room last month. Within minutes of that first contact, the Provo man was already requesting sexual acts from the youth.
"We don't encourage the people," Shiverdecker said, when asked how the man first mentioned sexual activity. "We're simply there to converse. If they talk about sex acts, we'll certainly talk back."
Such sexual exchanges, Shiverdecker said, dotted the instant-message exchanges over a few weeks until the man proposed the girl ride the city bus to a meeting point in Provo, where they could engage in sexual behavior.
"He claimed he became sick," Shiverdecker said, explaining why the first meeting fell through. "He arranged the next week to have the girl get a ride or take the bus to Crossroads mall where he would meet her."
Instead, the man arrived at the Salt Lake mall, where he was greeted by Utah County Sheriff's Department detectives who broke the news that his 13-year-old friend wouldn't be making the trip. An arrest followed soon after, Shiverdecker said.
"That's what you get with a blind date," he joked.
A 4th District Court judge set a $10,000 cash-only bail for the man, who was booked into the Utah County jail Monday on investigation of using the Internet to entice a minor for an unlawful sexual act.
Shiverdecker says the case is only one of many where sexual predators find young victims online.
"You really cannot get into any chat room where some amount of sexual activity won't be discussed," Shiverdecker said. "They are the equivalent of flashers, but on the Internet. They can take advantage of the situation from the safety of their own basement."
That same anonymity, however, allows detectives to masquerade as young girls or boys, though the task requires extensive research. It takes a lot of work, Shiverdecker said, to give a convincing portrayal of a young person.
Making references to Britney Spears and nagging parents are just a few ways, Shiverdecker offered, though he won't disclose his best techniques.
"We order teen magazines and watch a fair amount of MTV," he said.