Sex offenders have figured out how to beat the system that separates them from their prey, easily changing their identities to the outside world, according to a new study.
Names, birthdays, Social Security numbers and other personal identifiers are manipulated so often that one in sex convicted sex offenders is using the sophisticated techniques to fall through the cracks.
The study estimates that 92,000 to 570,000 registered sex offenders could be using these technological loopholes to live near schools, playgrounds or even be working with children.
‘These are offenders who are flying under the radar and authorities don’t know it,’ said Don Rebovich, the Utica College professor who directed the study, to MSNBC.
‘The authorities really don’t have the resources to keep on checking on these people. Offenders find where the vulnerabilities are in the system and exploit them.’
The study was funded by the U.S. Justice Department and carried out by the Center for Identity Management, which is dedicated to examining identity issues.
Nationwide, 16.2 per cent of sex offenders manipulate their identities, with higher numbers absconding in Louisiana, Washington, D.C., Nevada, Tennessee and Delaware, according to the study.
In those states, at least one in four sex offenders digitally manipulates their identities on average.
‘In the worst-case scenario, by thwarting registration requirements, they could potentially have easier access to children,’ said Staca Shehan, director of case analysis at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to MSNBC.
‘(In) those jurisdictions that have residency restrictions that would not allow (offenders) to live within distance of a school, day-care or park, (they) could avoid that type of requirement.’
Shehan says that offenders that sneak under the radar can be divided into two types: those that do so out of laziness and those that do so in a calculated manner.
Some won’t even bother to change their digital identities and will work on a cash-basis to remain off the grid.
A discussion of the issue called to mind the famous sex offender identity case of Frank Kuni.
Kuni, a New Jersey man who assaulted one victim and had inappropriate contact with two others, changed his name to Jamie Shepard and was able to get a job as a U.S. Census worker, going door to door.
He was eventually recognized by a mother in Pennsauken and sentenced to three years in prison.
On the New Jersey sex offender registry, below his name are three birthdates and 16 aliases.
He also went by Charles Farrell, Phanton Flam, Toot Flynn, James Rooney, and Frank Uni, among other disguises.
Still, law enforcement agencies question the study’s finding, insisting that their databases are fingerprint driven, not data driven.
‘Our registry is fingerprint-based. We don’t base it on date of birth, or Social Security number, or name,’ Nevada spokeswoman Julie Butler said.
‘They can put down their name as whatever and we still have them in the database.’
The survey took a large sample, around 100,000, and ran them through a credit application database to look for signs of manipulation.
The majority of the cases involved absconders changing their addresses, most likely to a nearby family member’s, so they can appear in case of a local police check but also clear basic background checks.
About 10,000 offenders used at least four different Social Security numbers, Rebovich added.
He and others hope that the study can fix the broken elements of the sex offender registries across the country and prevent offenders from slipping through the cracks.