Suspects use online dating apps to target Bartow victims

- Bartow Police have a warning for anyone using dating apps: The person you're meeting up with may not be who they say they are.

In the last month, four people in Bartow and one in Lakeland were targeted by online criminals faking their true intentions.

The victims in these cases weren't just robbed at gunpoint, some were car jacked and beaten.

These days, online dating isn't uncommon. But, it comes with risks. One of the victims shared his story, hoping no one else is targeted like he was.

Royshawn Scarlett is one of millions who use social media apps to meet new people. He's unfortunately one of at least five in Polk County who met the wrong people.

"I went over there and he met me at the front," Scarlet recalled. "So, I put my car in the back."

Last week, Scarlett thought he was meeting a person named "John" he chatted with on the app hi5. The person also went by "J-boy" on the app, Kik.

"When we got to the front, there were two other guys there dressed in all black," Scarlett said. "He made me get on the ground by the bushes face down with a gun on the back of my head."

While he laid there, he said thoughts raced through his head.

"I said, 'don't kill me. Lord, help me,'" Scarlett recalled.

The suspects took his keys, car, ID and cell phone. His family said they are thankful the suspects didn't take his life.

"If it wasn't for God, my son could be dead for something as petty as a car. I can't replace him," his mother Keisha Scurry said in tears.

Bartow Police say they have investigated four of these types of armed robberies in the last month - all related to online dating websites or apps. Each time, the suspects planned meet-ups the victims, who are all men.
  
When the victims showed up, one or two suspects went on the attack, robbing them at gunpoint, stealing their cars, and in one case, beating the victim in the face with a bat.

It's not just in Bartow. Last week, a Lakeland man was targeted in the very same way after using the website Plenty of Fish. Those suspects were arrested.

"Please be careful," Scarlett said.

It's a crime that could happen to anyone. Scarlett's family wants to be sure it doesn't happen again.

"I want them in jail where they deserve to be," Scurry said. "They are going to get caught because they are in Grady's county."

Police did not have a lot of descriptive details on the suspects. Victims said they were black males wearing dark clothing, often black hoodies.
  
As always, investigators want to remind everyone that if you're going to meet a stranger, whether it's for social purposes or selling merchandise, always do it in a highly visible, public, and well-lit location.

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