A new breed of vigilantes says they’re defending children from predators looking to lure them online – and all they need is a smart phone.

They make fake social media profiles, masquerading as vulnerable teens, to turn the tables on the so-called “creeps.”

The online chats turn into real-world confrontations, and the smart phones used to arrange the meet becomes a camera to record the whole thing.

Hundreds of Canadians from across the country have been exposed when these groups post videos to sites like Facebook and YouTube. A handful of people exposed have faced criminal charges. Together, the videos have tens of millions of views.

But a W5 investigation of the largest vigilante network, the Creep Catchers, has found their cameras often don’t tell the whole story.

Cases with truly horrifying chats have been lumped in with chats that show no evidence of any sexual intent. And the nationwide network’s enormous online audience isn’t told the difference.

Critics say the group doesn’t understand the law – and may be motivated less by a pursuit of justice as a pursuit of fame and social media reach, which can lead to money.

“My feeling was more or less anger towards the people who did this,” said Eric Rajah, the father of one young man targeted near Red Deer, Alberta.

In the video, the Red Deer Creep Catcher accuses Rajah’s son of inviting a 15-year-old boy over for the night. The young man denies it in tears.

“I’m not a creep. I’m not a molester. I’m nothing,” he says.

W5 has reviewed the chat logs in that case, and found no sexual content. The young man said he was offering help to a teenager who said he was growing up gay in rural Alberta. The chat logs show the pair is meeting “just as friends.”

Rajah said video had caused his 22-year-old son tremendous distress and serious damage to his reputation. “They are using our son, or any young person for that matter, as cheap entertainment,” he said.

And that’s not the only case. In the documentary, “Creep Out,” W5 has explored other times where apparently innocent people have been labelled “goofs” – that’s prison slang for child molester. The documentary also explores what happened in one case where a woman targeted committed suicide.

It’s no coincidence the prison term “goof” is their word of choice. W5 has learned that some of these “Creep Catchers” have themselves a long history of criminal convictions, with one doing federal prison time.

At its height, the Creep Catchers network existed in more than a dozen cities and towns from Surrey, B.C. to St. John, N.B.

It was founded by Dawson Raymond, who moved to Alberta after a break-and-enter conviction in Ontario. He had watched similar videos put up by Canada’s first pedophile hunter, Toronto’s Justin Payne, the first person in Canada to make a name for himself hunting pedophiles.

Raymond wanted to convict his targets. But no charges have been approved in Alberta, where police say they want nothing to do with the Creep Catchers.

Insp. Dave Dubnyk of Alberta’s Integrated Child Exploitation Unit says the evidence collected in stings by this group is rarely usable in court. And he says the Creep Catchers have actually interfered with police operations, including one case where a man police were ready to arrest, was confronted by the vigilantes.

He cut off ties with investigators, and disappeared to Winnipeg. Court documents show he’s now charged with molesting a toddler and a baby.

“What they’re doing is absolutely not protecting children in any way,” Dubnyk said.

Without the support of the police, Raymond decided to widen the net, including targets whether they wanted to have sex with a child or not.

“We weren’t meeting these guys unless they were saying something really sexual. We weren’t trying to catch these guys unless they were getting convicted,” he says in another Facebook video to his followers.

“Well they’re not getting convicted. We’re going to start meeting all these f***ers if they want to kiss or go to a movie or whatever because it’s f***ed up to want to do that with a kid regardless,” he says.

The trouble is, just arranging to meet a child is not against the law, said Craig E. Jones, a B.C. lawyer who has been following the Creep Catchers. Behind the chat, there must be proof of intent to kidnap or sexually abuse a child.

Such a wide definition of internet luring would capture innocent interactions, like between a child and a mentor, a parent, a music teacher or a coach, he said.

“It’s disturbing that a subgroup of people are so fixated on the idea of children as sexual objects that they can’t conceive of another purpose for an adult and a minor to have a conversation,” he said.

Dawson Raymond didn’t agree to an interview. The Red Deer Creep Catcher, Karl Young, has been convicted more than 25 times in his native New Brunswick, where there is a warrant for his arrest. He still believes Raymond’s interpretation of the rules, and says he’ll keep going to protect kids.

“If I had a 12-year-old boy and you asked him to come over and spend the night to watch a movie, is that right?” he said.

Young’s “catch” actually led police to arrest him: he now faces charges of harassment and mischief in Red Deer.