Cybersex crimes


A 13-year-old girl in Texas met a 19-year-old boy on MySpace, the wildly popular online community site. She claimed to be 15; he claimed to be a high school senior and a football star. They exchanged phone numbers, they met at a Whataburger, and he allegedly sexually assaulted her in his parked car.

Her parents are suing him. They're also suing MySpace and its parent company, Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp. Guess whom they hope to squeeze for at least $30 million?

The suit argues that MySpace "proximately caused" the assault by offering false assurances about its "protections" for the young on which the victim relied. But the issue of age is irrelevant to the question of who might assault you. At any rate, users know how easy it is to lie about age (and other things) on MySpace.

MySpace asks users to identify themselves and give ages, and it bars those who claim to be under 14 from joining. Since this suit was filed, the rules have been changed so that those who say they are 18 or older cannot view or contact those who claim to be 14 and 15. Several state attorneys general have been leaning on MySpace to toughen up its age verification.

No proposals to do this over the Internet can work reliably, from requiring credit cards to "verified" e-mail addresses. Even kids can get credit cards, or at least credit card names and numbers. And given the economy of youth cool in which MySpace thrives, such annoying new restrictions likely would send kids fleeing MySpace to the next, yet-to-be-sued community site.

FEMA, Katrina, and fraud

Flood Money

Tim Cavanaugh

"In isolated instances, debit cards were used for adult entertainment, to purchase weapons, and for purchases at a massage parlor that had been previously raided by local police for prostitution."

That's a sample of how the decidedly disorganized Federal Emergency Management Agency has been spending between $600 million and $1.4 billion of your taxes. After looking into how FEMA has been overseeing its responsibility to provide emergency relief to Hurricane Katrina survivors, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 16 percent of the agency's relief payments may have been erroneous—paid out to people with dummy residences, false Social Security numbers, or combinations of the two. One undercover GAO inspector scored a cool $2,358 check with a bogus address.

"This is an assault on the American taxpayer," said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who helped arrange that assault by voting for the 2005 Flexibility Act, which sped up the payment of relief checks to real and unreal Katrina victims. But if the widespread fraud was easy to predict, nobody could have foreseen the creativity of the fraudsters. Among the items purchased around the country with FEMA debit cards: a Caribbean vacation, bottles of Dom Perignon champagne, Girls Gone Wild videos, season tickets to New Orleans Saints games, and the services of a divorce lawyer in Houston. The GAO testified that one man used FEMA assistance money for a sex change operation. It did not say whether he applied for more assistance under his new, female identity.