Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Dangers of On-line Communication

I really need to get this out of my system, so please, people, bear with me...
I now feel as if no one can ever be safe. There are too many sickos out there, too many psychotic yet extremely clever people--ergo there's a lot of dangerous people out there. And sadly, I've dealt with my fair share. The first incident happened when I was only 6 years old. I was only a few houses away from my home when a car pulled up next to me. There was a man inside, and he was driving the car slowly, matching the pace of my short legs.
"Do you need a ride?" he asked.
"No," I told him, "I live on this block."
"Come on," he coaxed. "Why don't you get in and I'll drive you the rest of the way?"
"No," I repeated. "I can walk."
By then I had reached the steps of my house. The man looked furious when I glanced back at him. I booked up the stairs. Just before I slammed the front door shut, I heard his tires screech, and his engine roar; I turned just in time to see him zoom down the street and out of sight.
That was then, this is now. The internet has made it much easier for somebody to hunt a person down. Even with being careful, nobody is safe--myself included.
Please, if you're reading this, take what I have to say seriously. Never, ever, EVER give out your last name, the city you live in (especially if it's a small town), where you went (or are going) to school, or college. Don't give out any personal information, like your home address or your phone number. It's not worth taking the chances for a moment's pleasure--those of you out there know what I mean! I've never done that, and never will, but still, that does not make me safe.
I--one of the most internet careful people I know--am in a horrifying situation right now. I met this person on-line at a dating site, and we exchanged msn e-mail addresses. He seemed like a nice guy, full of fun, caring... He was coming to a city a few hours away from me, and I considered meeting him. When I told him that we'd only meet in a public area, and never somewhere alone, he turned vicious. I'm not going to go into specific details of his threats, but he mentioned rape, torture, and murder to say the least. That night I went to bed shaking. I had never been more frightened in my entire life--not of my physically abusive father, not of school bullies who attacked me on more than one occasion, never. Well, as I'm beginning to learn, there really is a first for everything. I'm not overly attractive; I'm not strikingly beautiful. Pretty, maybe; beautiful I am not. Yet, this--I hesitate to say man--monster is still fixated on me.
He's determined to "teach me a lesson" for rejecting him. In his own words, "You need help, my kind of help," and that "If I can't have you, if I can't be your first, no one can!" Then he goes on to ask if I want to see him on cam, or something equally disturbing, as if we were the best of friends, when just seconds before he was threatening not just my body, but my life.
Luckily, I have a friend who helped me more than he could imagine. I explained my dilemma, and in return he scanned the internet, search engines, on-line school newspapers, whitepages.com, a site I know now where if you know a person's last name, even if it is very common, you can learn everything, and I mean everything about that person: where they live, and I mean their exact address, their family member's names and addresses, where they work, where they go to school or college, everything!
He also checked my profiles, anything that could have my (very personal) information and let me know how to change what was out there so it would be harder for someone to track me down. But, by now, it may be too late; I can only be prepared for the worst, and hope for the best.

People, if someone is threatening you on-line, whether it's a chat site, a dating site, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, AIM--whatever instant messenger you use--report it! Save the conversations with the person who's threatening you so you can show them to the police, or lawyers if need be. Also, please use common sense. People can be intelligent, get straight A's throughout school and college years, but still lack complete common sense. If something feels wrong, it usually is. If someone is acting out of the ordinary, be cautious. Be aware of your surroundings. And if you have your mind set to meeting someone that you've only met on-line, bring a family member or friend you know won't abandon you. It's probably best to bring a man friend/family member rather than a woman. If a stalker sees he's outnumbered, especially by someone who could easily fend for themselves, they just might back off.
Once more, be careful about what you say to people you don't know on-line! Even saying something as simple as the number on your Jersey (if you play a sport) is enough for someone to track you down. Even showing a picture of yourself, as innocent as it may be, is enough.
You can never be too cautious. Keep that in mind.

Thank you, Chuck. Thank you more than you can imagine.

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