Before anyone else gets hurt, officials in New Jersey are warning residents: stop making your own attempts to catch online predators.

New Jersey 101.5 has reported on a handful of these cases throughout the state over the past couple of years, and with each, officials have advised against the vigilantes' actions. But the incidents persist.

A warning just this month from the Camden County Prosecutor's Office noted an uptick in citizens attempting to lure individuals suspected of criminal activity to public locations.

"Actions such as these have the potential to put all parties and innocent bystanders in danger," the prosecutor's office said. "These activities are not appropriate and may actually jeopardize law enforcement investigations and prosecutions of offenders."

Mirroring the years-old television program To Catch a Predator, self-appointed citizens are pretending to be underage individuals online, in hopes of catching the attention of possible criminals. After establishing a rapport online, the vigilante, acting as a minor, arranges to meet with the predator in person, where the predator can be outed.

"The proliferation of crime shows ... I think has given the wrong impression that those kinds of situations are not as dangerous as they truly are," said Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey.

Linskey said while she's aware of the trend, it doesn't appear to be impacting her county yet. If anyone suspects criminal activity, she said, pick up the phone and call the police.

"We really want people to leave the police work to the professionals," Linskey said.

Earlier this year, a Youtube personality out of Middlesex County was arrested after his attempt to catch an online predator turned violent. New Jersey 101.5 reported in 2021 on a vigilante group that confronted accused predators in Atlantic City and Brigantine. In 2020, officials in Ocean County repeatedly urged a video vigilante to quit acting on his own.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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