The first time Cameron Allan went creep catching, he thought he was going to get stabbed.
The New Brunswick, Canada teenager spent the morning of his 18th birthday posing as an underage girl on the internet with the goal of luring a would-be child-molester to his Saint John home and busting him on camera.
Inspired by the actions of the Creep Catcher network, a group of vigilante pedophile hunters who post videos online where they confront men who are allegedly trying to lure underage boys and girls, Allan set a fake profile on a dating site on the morning of his birthday.
He quickly started chatting up a man who was under the impression Allan was a 15-year-old girl. The guy asked to meet. Allan gave him his home address. When he showed up, Allan pointed a camera in his face and accused him of preying on minors.
"He walked maybe a foot away from me and we kinda looked each other in the eyes for a second and he had his hands in his pocket and I'm like, 'Oh God I'm getting stabbed on my birthday," Allan told VICE News.
VICE Canada has been investigating the creep catcher network. Read their coverage here.
Instead, the guy just hurled some profanities at Allan, then got in his car and drove away. Allan posted the video on Facebook, where it's since been viewed more than 56,000 times.
The clip made a stir in his home town, bringing reporters and cops to his door. It also got the attention of the Creep Catcher network, and Allan is now the president of the group's Saint John chapter.
But not everyone is comfortable with the vigilante organization. At least one man says he was wrongfully targeted by the group, and had his life ruined. Police agencies are blasting the group and their offshoots. There are concerns that a group with no accountability and no oversight could do more harm than good.
Creep Catcher was founded by Dawson Raymond, a brash, tattoo-covered 26-year-old from Calgary who says he got sick of hearing stories about child predators getting away with it.
'It's just one after the other ... and cops are literally not doing fuck all.'
"It's just one after the other ... and cops are literally not doing fuck all. They're basically doing nothing and these guys are getting sentences that are just fucking ridiculous," says Raymond.
The organization, which Raymond started last year with a few buddies, is now a coast-to-coast network with chapters in nine cities. Collectively, the members have posted dozens of videos.
"It looks so easy to outsiders but a lot of work goes into stings," says Calgary programmer Vicky Penny, 32, the group's webmaster, and one of its earliest members.
It starts with a fake profile on a dating site or app. The services are usually 18+, but the creep catchers use profile pictures that look barely legal.
"The creeps, they come to us. We don't seek them out," says Melanie, a 30-year-old member of the Edmonton chapter whose name has been changed for this story. "These guys, they fall for it because they really want to take advantage of a child."
The conversations usually start innocently enough, but after the usual pleasantries are exchanged, the creep catcher will write something along the lines of, "I'm actually only 12, is that OK?"
Some people say, 'No, you're too young' and leave it at that. But a lot of people — it's actually kind of shocking how many people — say, 'Oh, that's OK, age is just a number,'" says Jordan Latimer, 28, president of the Lloydminster, Alberta chapter.
Then it's about letting the creep fasten his own noose.
"It's absolutely disgusting the things they say," says a Creep Catcher who works with Latimer and asked to remain anonymous. "I mean, I'm a 31-year-old man and I won't even say some of these things to women my own age."
Sometimes a target will insist on talking on the phone before he'll agree to meet up, or he'll scope out a meeting-place ahead of time. If the fake minor is a girl, Melanie or one of the other women in the network will act as a decoy, or play the part on the phone.
"It takes a lot of control and patience," Melanie says. "It's not entirely fun, I'm not gonna lie, but it needs to be done."
This could go on for a couple hours, or stretch on for weeks or even months. But if all goes well, eventually comes the bust. A guy will show up at a rendezvous expecting a vulnerable child, but instead finds himself with a camera in his face as a Creep Catcher member berates him for his behavior.
"It's Bill, right?" says Raymond to a man in one of his Calgary videos.
"Yeah, why?" the guy responds.
"You're here to meet a little girl? 12-year-old Alyssa?"
"Why would you come to meet a little girl?"
"I went through a breakup. I just want friends."
"Yeah yeah yeah, not from what you were saying and sending pictures and shit, man."
"Why would you do that?"
"I don't know, man. I'm sorry."
"Are you fucking ashamed of yourself?"
"You better be."
"Are you gonna do this again?"
"You fucking better not. And if you do, remember my face. You see me? You'll be meeting me. You'll be meeting me every time."
Once the creep has been busted and filmed — including a close up of their license plate if they're driving — Penny posts the video and the chatlogs leading up to it on CreepCatcher.ca. She also backs up the data and protects the site from hacks or DDoS attacks.
She says she reached out to Dawson to offer her skills as soon as she saw his first video.
"For me, it was seeing that everyday citizens can take a stand and be effective," she says. "I figured it would be great to be part of something so impactful that we could possibly make changes in our legal system from one of leniency to one of intolerance for sex offenders."
But not everyone is on board with that mission.
A Calgary man told CBC News his reputation was ruined after he appeared in a Creep Catcher video. He says was unfairly targeted — though Raymond says the screenshots prove otherwise.
Police departments across the country have issued statements condemning the group's actions. RCMP in Medicine Hat, Alberta, put out a statement last month calling the organization "an unsanctioned, loosely organized, initiative" of "individuals who engage in vigilante activity" and "come precariously close to the threshold of several criminal offences."
During a press conference in April, Lloydminster Mounties accused them of disrupting an ongoing police investigation and putting officers in danger.
'In the end, if people thought the police did a good job, citizens wouldn't have to do it.'
But the group's members aren't worried about working outside a system they believe is broken. Many of the Creep Catchers told VICE News they'd been molested as children, or knew someone who had, and felt let down by the people who were supposed to protect them.
Melanie's abuser went to prison when she was 13, but was out again in no time, she says, hurting other people.
"The justice system, for me, failed," she says.
According to the Correctional Service of Canada, most sex offender serve provincial sentences of less than two years. According to Statistics Canada, 13 percent of child molesters are convicted of another sexual crime within five years of being released, 18 percent within 10 years, and 23 percent within 15.
Penny says the videos should be a wake-up call to lawmakers to increase the penalties for sex offenders and make the national sex offender registry accessible to the public.
"Activism takes on many forms and causes," says Penny. "In the end, if people thought the police did a good job, citizens wouldn't have to do it and when we do we wouldn't have so many wonderful supporters from all walks of life."
Follow Sheena Goodyear on Twitter: @sheenagoodyear