COLUMBUS - Ohioans can now see whether phone numbers, email addresses or screen names belong to registered sex offenders under a new feature added to the state's online database, the state's attorney general said Thursday.
The sex offender registry lists residents convicted of sex crimes and labeled sex offenders. The public can search the database by name or location to find offenders.
The registry's new reverse-lookup feature lets people input phone numbers, email addresses or online screen names used for video games or social media to see whether a registered sex offender has contacted them. If the information matches an offender, the searcher will be told to immediately contact their county sheriff's office or the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation. It does not display the offender's name. It would be up to the local sheriff to decide how to proceed.
Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the change at a news conference in Columbus with the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association. Only seven other states have the lookup feature, he said.
DeWine acknowledged the search has pitfalls. For instance, offenders could lie about their online information or change their email addresses or screen names.
"While this is not an absolute, 100 percent, fool-proof way to see if the person on the other end of that phone number or email is a sex offender, it is, we believe, a valuable tool," he said.
DeWine said the new lookup could be helpful to parents who see unfamiliar phone numbers on their children's cellphones or find strange emails or messages through their online accounts.
Some sex offenders also prey upon parents to get to their children, he said. There have been instances when mothers have met someone online only to have their child molested by the person later.
Ohio has nearly 18,000 registered sex offenders.
The offenders are required to provide their home and work addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and screen names to their county sheriff's office. The information goes into a system maintained by the attorney general.