On Wednesday, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department sent out a press release that declared in the headline, "Bogus Website Victimizes Community."
But Jesse Forrest, the owner of the website FindSportsNow.com says his site is legit and that police never even bothered to contact him before sending out the communique, even though his email and phone number are clearly listed on his website. He said he was "extremely frustrated."
Forrest, who also runs another sports registration site at Joimo.com, explained that event coordinators around the nation can post activities -- like basketball leagues, kayaking trips, or dodgeball games -- on his site for free to recruit participants. They can choose whether or not to have FindSportsNow handle the online registration and payments.
If an event planner does choose that option, Forrest first checks whether the organizer is reputable; if so, he'll process payments for the registration fee plus his $2 fee. "If we haven't verified them, we're not going to collect money for them," he explains. In those dubious cases, he collects just his $2 pre-registration fee, and passes along the interested party's information to the event coordinator. He says he refunds the $2 if a person is unable to register.
He says that in problem instances, which are rare, it's made clear to the registrant that he or she is not guaranteed a spot in the event and must register and pay with the local organizer. Forrest said that a site visitor tried to register for a city basketball league, was charged $2, and did not understand the process.
After this person complained, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department warned in a press release that "Victims logged onto the site, registered for a program, and later contacted City officials when they failed to receive follow-up information. Detectives have learned that the victims' financial and personal information may have been compromised after mistakenly using this website."
Forrest says he's from Fort Lauderdale, though he now works out of Los Angeles, and that he's had his website since 2008. "People are calling us asking us to remove their listings when we're helping us driving more people to them. I'm trying not to get too frustrated, but all day, I've been getting e-mails from people saying, 'Cancel my account immediately!' All I can do is try to explain to people what is going on."
He declined to say how much money he had lost. He said he cleared up the misunderstanding with Detective Michael Berndt who "was really helpful" but still, "I found it very frustrating that emails were sent prior to at least contacting our side."
As of Thursday, the department's initial press release was still online. A message was left for Berndt.