The hunt was on.
Armed only with a blind email address, I wanted to track down the middle-age creep who approached a friend of mine from the coffee shop while she shopped at Walmart. He asked if she wanted to make a few bucks posing for pictures on adult-oriented web sites.
As you can imagine, she was unnerved, scared and freaked out. No one goes shopping and expects to be approached by a greasy-haired guy in sweat pants to pose for online sites that cater to whack jobs. But he handed her his business card and when she recounted her story, she passed the info on to me.
The encounter only lasted a few seconds and the pervy photog was low key before he moved on to scout for other prey. He had to be subtle. The head of security at Walmart later told me they’d already banned him from the store but he still sneaks in, hidden among the crowd.
His card had little information, just an email address, “firstname.lastname@example.org.” No phone number was listed, just a photo of a camera and the phrases “Voluptuous Modeling,” “Sexy Has No Size!!!,” and “You Have Been Scouted.”
“Don’t delay,” the card said, “email us today!”
So I did, but I didn’t want to tip my hand just yet. I didn’t think he’d respond to a pissed off guy offended by his behavior.
Step One: Create a fake hotmail account using a woman’s name.
Step Two: Send an email saying he’d given a card to a friend of mine at Walmart. She wasn’t interested, but I may be.
Step Three: Wait.
In less than an hour, the pervy dude wrote back and was nice enough to give me his name, Bernard Friend, his personal email address, his phone number, and an invite to call anytime between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Before I did, I decided to do a little checking around. His email included the names of some websites he worked with. I sent them emails asking if they’d ever heard of Bernie.
One confirmed he was an independent contractor whose work they used on occasion. Their site featured women in sheer lingerie on the front page. Another said he was a talent scout; if he found a woman suitable for their site, they would fly her down to Florida for a photo session and give Bernie a finder’s fee. That site had topless models and section labeled “Fetishes.”
Another helps models set up their own web sites in exchange for 45 percent of any cash it may generate from online voyeurs with more green than gray matter. Bernie takes another cut for making introductions and taking the pictures.
Now that I had some info, I decided to give him a call.
Question: “What right do you have walking up to strangers at Walmart and asking them to pose for porn?”
He got defensive: “That’s not pornography,” he insisted. “Pornography is people defecating, or animals, or midgets, or children.”
“That’s not the point,” I replied. “What right do you have stalking people at Walmart in the first place? You creeped out my friend.”
“I’m not a stalker. I’m polite,” he replied. “She could have said ‘No thank you’ and handed me back my card.”
“I don’t care how polite you are,” I pressed on. “It’s one thing to advertise on Craigslist, it’s another to walk up to women out of the blue and scare them at Walmart.”
“I go to several Walmarts. I get approached by girl scouts all the time trying to sell me cookies,” he replied. “Is that harassment? No. If I don’t want any, I say ‘No thank you’ and move on. Your friend could have done the same.”
We went back and forth for several minutes, but Bernie never did get the point. Not that I expected him to. I’ll confess my real goal was to verbally bitch slap him a few times.
As a final step, I called the head of security at the store. She told me Bernie sounded familiar and that he’d been banned from the store before.
“We are in a Catch-22,” she said. “We don’t want him in the store and have banned him because we don’t allow soliciting. But since there was no physical harm, we can’t call the police.”
She did, however, pull the security tapes of Bernie in action. She made prints and handed them out to the managers with orders to kick him off the property if he shows up again.
Guess what Bernie?
This time you’re on camera.
And no one is smiling.