Police: Anonymity of dating apps can lead to danger

A Seattle woman, who asked KIRO 7 not to reveal her identity, recently claimed she became suspicious within minutes of meeting in person a man who first contacted her on the dating app OKCupid.

“He went by the name ‘Tony’ but I saw his credit card used a different name on it,” she said.

The woman became suspicious, not only because "Tony" didn't appear to be his real name, but because during their first date in Fremont "Tony" grabbed her upper leg within two minutes of saying "hello” and kept grabbing her -- and forcefully kissing her --- according to the woman.

“Tony” made unwanted advances toward her “at least ten times”, even though she told him “no” and said she would often “swat his hand away,” she told KIRO 7 during an interview.

The woman said she ended her date and blocked "Tony's" number and OKCupid profile immediately.

Investigators believe "Tony’s” real name is Sidelemine Baba-Ahmed.  Kirkland Police arrested Baba-Ahmed late last year for allegedly sexually assaulting a 36-year old woman in her car at the Kirkland Marina on November 20, 2016.

The 31-year old Baba-Ahmed is now charged in King County Superior Court with indecent liberties – a felony.

According to charging documents, Baba-Ahmed met the woman on the dating app Tinder and "lunged at" her "and began kissing her" inside her car after she agreed to give him a ride home the evening they met in person.  The court documents allege Baba-Ahmed "forced his hands down" the woman’s pants “and into her vagina.”  The investigating detective told KIRO 7 he knew the case would go to trial when he said Baba-Ahmed “admitted having sexual contact” with the woman “despite her telling him to stop.”

Kirkland police Lieutenant Robert Saloum believes some sexual predators use dating apps to find potential victims.

In addition to the case at the Kirkland Marina that led to criminal charges, Saloum confirmed that Baba-Ahmed is also now being investigated in connection with the claims of the Seattle woman, who spoke to KIRO 7 about her experience with “Tony” in Fremont.

Kirkland police are also looking into allegations by another Seattle woman that “Tony” harassed her through OKCupid, even though the two never met in person. She told KIRO 7 she blocked his profile after a friend warned her to stay away from “Tony.”

Baba-Ahmed is not the first man suspected of using a phony name on a dating app.

Devin Richard Hartman met a Georgia woman on OKCupid using the profile name "Zach Anderson."  Hartman was found guilty of raping her and sentenced to life in prison.

A University of Washington student reported to UW police that a man raped her in her dorm room in early 2016.  According to police documents filed in King County Superior Court, the suspect’s Tinder profile identified him by his first name only, so the first task for investigators was to identify the suspect.

"There's obviously more of an opportunity to disguise who you are when you're writing something online, and in sort of an anonymous forum," UW Police Sergeant Steve Rittereiser told KIRO 7 shortly after the alleged incident.

The anonymity allowed by dating apps also concerns Saloum. "You can be anybody you want” when you register for a dating app profile, he told KIRO 7.  Another concern; digital anonymity prevents users from researching someone they may plan to meet in person.

However, Saloum had advice for dating in the digital age: “You’re using electronics to hook-up with a potential partner or mate, so use that to your advantage,” he said.  “You have some information.  Go online and do some research for that person.”

According to Saloum, if you don’t find anything connected to the name you’ve been given, “or if you’re finding other things that don’t click, listen to your instincts,” he said.  “If something’s not right, just move on.  It’s just not worth engaging with that person.”

However, even a real name is no guarantee of safety.

John Charlton is charged with murdering and dismembering Ingrid Lyne of Renton last year.  Lyne’s body parts were found in multiple garbage bins throughout Seattle.  A source close to the investigation recently revealed Charlton and Lynne met through a dating app.

>> Read full case history here

Another woman – who also didn’t want her identity revealed out of fears for her safety – told KIRO 7 she met Charlton though OKCupid but never met him face-to-face because even during their digital contact, Charlton made her uncomfortable.

"I'm happy I trusted my intuition and I encourage other woman to trust theirs," she said days after Charlton was charged with murder, "because I could have been that victim."

And it's not just women in potential danger.  Stephen Port killed four men he met through dating apps.  Port’s gruesome serial murders set-off a flurry of news reports in Britain, where more than 500 crimes are reportedly connected to Tinder or Grindr -- a dating app for gay men.

Most digital dating companies clearly detail safety tips in their Terms and Conditions and put the responsibility for safety squarely on users' shoulders.

Read Tinder's Terms and Conditions here

Read OKCupid's Terms and Conditions here

Lt Saloum of Kirkland Police agrees that's where it should be.  “If you want to ask for information and that person doesn’t want to give it to you, maybe there’s a reason why” he said.

However, the women KIRO 7 interviewed believe digital dating companies could do more to protect their users.  Both claim to have blocked the man they knew as "Tony" and both claim “Tony” simply created multiple user profiles through which he continued to contact them.

“Anybody can create as many profiles as they want to harass somebody,” one of the Seattle woman said, which is why she said she is no longer using dating apps.

KIRO 7 contacted Baba-Ahmed and his attorney after a recent court appearance at the King County Courthouse.  Neither Baba-Ahmed, nor his attorney, returned that request for comment.

KIRO 7 also contacted Tinder and OKCupid for comment. Spokespeople for both apps claim to take user safety very seriously, and both have safety measures in place, including the ability to delete users’ profiles for violating Terms of Service.

Additional comments are below:

OKCupid comment: Thank you for contacting OkCupid regarding this very serious topic. We continually strive to ensure a safe and secure user experience on OkCupid. We have a number of systems and technologies in place including allowing users to block and flag other users, and a message monitoring system that automatically searches for inappropriate language and behavior. In the event that we receive a report that a user has violated our terms of use, our customer experience team takes the appropriate measures, including removing the offenders profile entirely, and blocking their username and email address.

Tinder comment: At Tinder, we take our users' safety very seriously and have security measures in place that allow the members of our community to report any inappropriate or suspicious activity. If we learn that a user has violated our terms of service, we review the violation and take appropriate action, including deleting their profile. Our thoughts are with the victims of these events, and we intend to support law enforcement in this investigation.

Additional Notes:

  • Communication on Tinder requires a “double opt-in”. This means users cannot contact one another unless they both swipe right. In doing so, they both show mutual interest and enable messaging within the app.
  • If a user’s profile is deleted for violating our terms of service, we prevent them from logging in using their Facebook account.