Teen facing charges after high-tech prank

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A teenager with local ties is learning firsthand the perils of irresponsible text messaging, after police say a months-long, high-tech prank went too far.

The 18-year-old girl -- a Gwinnett high school graduate and current freshman at a Georgia college -- was arrested in Gwinnett Wednesday and charged with electronic transfer of obscene material to a minor, jail records show. The arrest is the result of an elaborate scheme allegedly perpetrated against a now-former friend in Gwinnett, who was 14 at the time and convinced to exchange sexually explicit text messages, police said.

According to a Gwinnett County police report, the cautionary tale began when the older girl texted her friend in early 2012 using a "fake phone number" created by a cellphone application. She presented herself as a boy named "TJ" and started a relationship between the two via text message.

"The relationship lasted approximately eight to nine months," police said.

During that time, the older girl -- under the guise of being TJ -- reportedly sent her younger friend a photograph of male genitalia. "TJ" also solicited the alleged victim to send inappropriate photos of herself.

"I asked the victim if she ever sent a picture of herself nude to the suspect," the responding police officer wrote in the incident report. "She told me that she did after the suspect kept asking her for one."

"The victim also told me that, once caught, the suspect tried to explain her actions by saying that she felt sorry for the victim for not having a boyfriend," the report said.

The alleged victim caught on to the scheme, she told police, when another friend went through her cellphone and told her that TJ wasn't "even a real male because the same suspect had tried to play the same trick on her" previously.

Police spoke with the victim on Oct. 26 before arranging a Nov. 13 meeting with the suspect. During that interview, the teen allegedly admitted to the scheme and said she had kept it up for so long because she was never questioned.

"She told me that she did know it was illegal and that things just went too far," the police officer wrote.

With the permission of the alleged victim's family, the older girl was allowed to turn herself in after her semester's classes were over. Jail records show she was booked Wednesday before being released on $1,300 bond.

The electronic transfer of obscene material to a minor is considered a "high and aggravated misdemeanor" in the state of Georgia.

Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith warned teens to be responsible with today's technology -- the ramifications can be serious and lasting.

"It's happening all day, every day with teenagers and their phones," he said.

As far as potential victims go, Smith offered a reminder that phones and the Internet are "not nearly as private" as some young people assume. A "private" message can become very public very fast.

"A good rule of thumb would be to not put anything on your phone that you wouldn't want on a billboard on the side of the highway," Smith said.