The first time Cameron Allan went creep catching, he thought he was going to get stabbed.
The New Brunswick, Canada teenager spent the morning of his 18th birthday posing as an underage girl on the internet with the goal of luring a would-be child-molester to his Saint John home and busting him on camera.
Inspired by the actions of the Creep Catcher network, a group of vigilante pedophile hunters who post videos online where they confront men who are allegedly trying to lure underage boys and girls, Allan set a fake profile on a dating site on the morning of his birthday.
He quickly started chatting up a man who was under the impression Allan was a 15-year-old girl. The guy asked to meet. Allan gave him his home address. When he showed up, Allan pointed a camera in his face and accused him of preying on minors.
“He walked maybe a foot away from me and we kinda looked each other in the eyes for a second and he had his hands in his pocket and I’m like, ‘Oh God I’m getting stabbed on my birthday,” Allan told VICE News.
Instead, the guy just hurled some profanities at Allan, then got in his car and drove away. Allan posted the video on Facebook, where it’s since been viewed more than 56,000 times.
The clip made a stir in his home town, bringing reporters and cops to his door. It also got the attention of the Creep Catcher network, and Allan is now the president of the group’s Saint John chapter.
But not everyone is comfortable with the vigilante organization. At least one man says he was wrongfully targeted by the group, and had his life ruined. Police agencies are blasting the group and their offshoots. There are concerns that a group with no accountability and no oversight could do more harm than good.
Creep Catcher was founded by Dawson Raymond, a brash, tattoo-covered 26-year-old from Calgary who says he got sick of hearing stories about child predators getting away with it.
“It’s just one after the other … and cops are literally not doing fuck all. They’re basically doing nothing and these guys are getting sentences that are just fucking ridiculous,” says Raymond.
The organization, which Raymond started last year with a few buddies, is now a coast-to-coast network with chapters in nine cities. Collectively, the members have posted dozens of videos.
“It looks so easy to outsiders but a lot of work goes into stings,” says Calgary programmer Vicky Penny, 32, the group’s webmaster, and one of its earliest members.
It starts with a fake profile on a dating site or app. The services are usually 18+, but the creep catchers use profile pictures that look barely legal.
“The creeps, they come to us. We don’t seek them out,” says Melanie, a 30-year-old member of the Edmonton chapter whose name has been changed for this story. “These guys, they fall for it because they really want to take advantage of a child.”
The conversations usually start innocently enough, but after the usual pleasantries are exchanged, the creep catcher will write something along the lines of, “I’m actually only 12, is that OK?”