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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Feeling Cheated: Internet Sex Covered By Ohio Consumer Protection Law

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against several online sex sites after a "gold level" customer invoked Ohio's consumer protection laws and claimed he was cheated. Identified only as John Doe, the resident of suburban Cleveland says he met an underage girl online and had sex with her. He says the Web operations falsely advertised that females were pre-screened to ensure they were of legal age.

For the time being, his name has been kept secret so he can avoid embarrassing family. Court records show the case was filed in Toledo last week, although the man lives in Lakewood, a Cleveland suburb. Some of the online entities named in the case are in Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and offshore in the Caribbean nations Jamaica and Barbados.

"Plaintiff is the father of minor children who will suffer significant emotional damage if his name is required to be disclosed on publicly available materials related to this litigation," the man's lawyer said in a court filing, which is pending before U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary in Toledo. The man said he paid $59.95 a month in 2005 in order to meet women online to have sex.

He said he started chatting with a potential sex partner in November 2005, and that he went to her home and "engaged in consensual sexual relations." A month later police raided his home, and charged him with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. He now faces up to 15 years imprisonment, the loss of his children, plus lifetime classification as a sexual offender.

In his lawsuit against the online sex site, he contends he relied upon its assurances that the women he would meet were adults, and he says the company violated the Ohio Consumer Protection Laws. "Defendants committed an unfair and deceptive act or practice in violation of R.C. 1345.02 (A) by including representation for their service that it does not contain any persons under the age of 18 years of age when such representation is false."

Besides financial damages, he is seeking an injunction that blocks online sex sites from false advertising. (Case No. 3:07-cv-604, Northern District of Ohio, Western Division).

Judge Zouhary issued a TRO involving several online ventures that he described as "wholly-internet businesses [that] have been designed with a system of veiled ownership, divided assets, misnamed corporations and hidden information for which there is not legitimate business purpose." He said the online operators appear to engage in a shell game, and the order prohibits the transfer, liquidation, sale or lease of the sex service domain names outside the routine course of business. He said there is evidence they have attempted to avoid "federal jurisdiction" in the past.

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