Sting operation
In law enforcement, a sting operation is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person committing a crime. A typical sting will have a law-enforcement officer or cooperative member of the public play a role as criminal partner or potential victim and go along with a suspect's actions to gather evidence of the suspect's wrongdoing.

Sting operations are common in the United States, but not allowed in other countries such as Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

and the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...



  • Deploying a bait car
    Bait car
    A bait car, also called a decoy car, is a vehicle used by law enforcement agencies to capture car thieves. The vehicles are modified, with features including GPS tracking and audio/video surveillance technology, and can be remotely monitored and controlled...

     (also called a honey trap
    Honeypot or honeytrap may refer to:* A pot used to store honey* Espionage recruitment involving sexual seduction in** reality** fiction* A type of sting operation such as a** Bait car...

    ) to catch an auto thief
  • Setting up a seemingly vulnerable honeypot
    Honeypot (computing)
    In computer terminology, a honeypot is a trap set to detect, deflect, or in some manner counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems...

     computer to lure and gain information about hackers
  • Arranging someone under the legal drinking age
    Legal drinking age
    Laws about the legal drinking age cover a wide range of issues and behaviours, addressing when and where alcohol can be consumed. The minimum age alcohol can be legally consumed can be different to the age when it can be purchased. These laws vary among different countries and many laws have...

     to ask an adult to buy an alcoholic beverage
    Alcoholic beverage
    An alcoholic beverage is a drink containing ethanol, commonly known as alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits. They are legally consumed in most countries, and over 100 countries have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption...

     or tobacco
    Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as a pesticide and, in the form of nicotine tartrate, used in some medicines...

     products for them.
  • Posing as someone who is seeking illegal drugs
    Illegal drug trade
    The illegal drug trade is a global black market, dedicated to cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of those substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws. Most jurisdictions prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of drugs by drug prohibition laws.A UN report said the...

    , contraband
    The word contraband, reported in English since 1529, from Medieval French contrebande "a smuggling," denotes any item which, relating to its nature, is illegal to be possessed or sold....

     or child pornography
    Child pornography
    Child pornography refers to images or films and, in some cases, writings depicting sexually explicit activities involving a child...

     to catch a supplier; or as a supplier to catch a customer.
  • Passing off explosives to a would-be terror bomber.
  • Posing as a child in a chat room
    Chat room
    The term chat room, or chatroom, is primarily used by mass media to describe any form of synchronous conferencing, occasionally even asynchronous conferencing...

     to lure a child molester
    Child sexual abuse
    Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities , indecent exposure with intent to gratify their own sexual desires or to...

  • An undercover officer posing as a potential customer to raid illegal prostitution
    Prostitution is the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment. The person who receives payment for sexual services is called a prostitute and the person who receives such services is known by a multitude of terms, including a "john". Prostitution is one of...

  • An undercover officer posing as a prostitute to raid illegal solicitation
    Literally, solicitation means: 'urgently asking'. It is the action or instance of soliciting; petition; proposal. In criminal law, it most commonly refers to either the act of offering goods or services, or the act of attempting to purchase such goods or services...

  • An undercover officer posing as a hitman
    A hitman is a person hired to kill another person.- Hitmen in organized crime :Hitmen are largely linked to the world of organized crime. Hitmen are hired people who kill people for money. Notable examples include Murder, Inc., Mafia hitmen and Richard Kuklinski.- Other cases involving hitmen...

     to prevent potential murder-for-hire.

Ethical and legal concerns

Sting operations are fraught with ethical concerns over whether they constitute entrapment
In criminal law, entrapment is conduct by a law enforcement agent inducing a person to commit an offense that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit. In many jurisdictions, entrapment is a possible defense against criminal liability...

. Law-enforcement may have to be careful not to provoke the commission of a crime by someone who would not normally be inclined to do so. Additionally, in the process of such operations, the police often engage in the same crimes, such as buying or selling contraband, soliciting prostitutes, etc. In common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 jurisdictions, the defendant may invoke the defense of entrapment
In criminal law, entrapment is conduct by a law enforcement agent inducing a person to commit an offense that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit. In many jurisdictions, entrapment is a possible defense against criminal liability...


Contrary to popular misconceptions, however, entrapment does not prohibit undercover police officers from posing as criminals or denying that they are police. Entrapment is typically only a defense if a suspect is pressured into committing a crime they would probably not have committed otherwise, though the legal definition of this pressure varies greatly from country to country. For example, if undercover officers coerced a potential suspect into manufacturing illegal drugs to sell them, then the accused could use entrapment as a defense. However, if a suspect is already manufacturing drugs and police pose as buyers to catch him, then entrapment usually has not occurred.

Sting operations in popular culture

  • The 1973 Robert Redford
    Robert Redford
    Charles Robert Redford, Jr. , better known as Robert Redford, is an American actor, film director, producer, businessman, environmentalist, philanthropist, and founder of the Sundance Film Festival. He has received two Oscars: one in 1981 for directing Ordinary People, and one for Lifetime...

     and Paul Newman
    Paul Newman
    Paul Leonard Newman was an American actor, film director, entrepreneur, humanitarian, professional racing driver and auto racing enthusiast...

     film, The Sting
    The Sting
    The Sting is a 1973 American caper film set in September 1936 that involves a complicated plot by two professional grifters to con a mob boss . The film was directed by George Roy Hill, who previously directed Newman and Redford in the western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.Created by...

    , centers on two grifters and their attempts to con
    Confidence trick
    A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence. A confidence artist is an individual working alone or in concert with others who exploits characteristics of the human psyche such as dishonesty and honesty, vanity, compassion, credulity, irresponsibility,...

     a mob boss through a type of sting operation.

  • In 1998, three agencies joined forces to conduct a sting operation when they successfully recovered the Honduras Goodwill Moon Rock from a vault in Miami. The sting operation was known as "Operation Lunar Eclipse" and the participating agencies were NASA Office of Inspector General, the United States Postal Inspection Service
    United States Postal Inspection Service
    The United States Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service. Its jurisdiction is defined as "crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S...

     and U.S. Customs. The moon rock was offered to the undercover agents for 5 million dollars.

  • In June 2007, Larry Craig
    Larry Craig
    Larry Edwin Craig is a former Republican politician from the U.S. state of Idaho. He served 18 years in the U.S. Senate , preceded by 10 years in the U.S. House, representing Idaho's first district . His 28 years in the Congress rank as the second-longest in Idaho history, trailing only William...

    , a Republican senator from Idaho, was caught in a sex sting operation at a Minnesota airport. Craig was purportedly soliciting sex in a men's bathroom when he was arrested by an undercover policeman. In August 2007, he filed a guilty plea for disorderly conduct. He professed to have been wrongly pressured into entering the plea, however, and on September 10 filed a request to withdraw his guilty plea. His petition for withdrawal was rejected by the Minnesota court system. Craig went on to finish out the rest of his term despite the scandal and allegations.

  • In To Catch a Predator
    To Catch a Predator
    To Catch a Predator is an American reality television series that features hidden camera investigations by the television newsmagazine program Dateline NBC. It is devoted to impersonating underage youth and detaining adults who contact them over the Internet for sexual liaisons...

    , an NBC reality TV show hosted by Chris Hansen
    Chris Hansen
    Christopher Edward "Chris" Hansen is an American television infotainment personality. He is known for his work on Dateline NBC, in particular the former segment known as To Catch a Predator, which revolved around catching potential Internet sex predators using a sting operation.-Career:Hansen...

    , decoys posing as minors
    Minor (law)
    In law, a minor is a person under a certain age — the age of majority — which legally demarcates childhood from adulthood; the age depends upon jurisdiction and application, but is typically 18...

     have online conversations with potential sexual predators in an attempt to lure them to a meeting, where they are confronted by Hansen and the police.

  • In White Collar (TV series)
    White Collar (TV series)
    White Collar is a USA Network television series created by Jeff Eastin, starring Matt Bomer as con-man Neal Caffrey and Tim DeKay as Special Agent Peter Burke. It premiered on October 23, 2009. In December 2009, White Collar was renewed for a second season that began on July 13, 2010...

    , a fictional renowned thief, known as Neal Caffrey
    Neal Caffrey
    Neal Caffrey is the main character of the USA Network original series White Collar. He is first introduced as a con artist serving out a four year prison sentence for bond forgery, but after escaping from prison with three months left on his sentence and being recaptured by the FBI, he agrees to...

    , is caught and serves as a criminal consultant for the FBI. Neal during these cases resumes a false identity to lure forgers and other thieves out of hiding such that the FBI can arrest and charge them.
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