With more and more people getting online each day, the importance of online safety in chat rooms and social networking sites cannot be stressed greatly enough. I personally know someone who thought she had met her very own Prince Charming in a chat room, and he ended up being an abusive control freak. Several years later, she is still enduring court dates and arrests and custody battles, all stemming from this man she met online, married, and is attempting to divorce. The fact she shares two children with this man will forever link her to him and complicates the situation dramatically. Even smart, usually cautious people may be taken in by these online predators. Not all “bad people” you come into contact with online are necessarily trying to prey on anyone, but can just be an unsavory character you have the misfortune of encountering in your online travels. Play it safe to avoid falling into the hands or plans of someone who might be looking for more than just a simple chat. Here are some things I have learned over the years from my own experiences online, and through those mistakes of my friends.
In today’s society, almost every household in America has access to the Internet, either at home, the library, at school, or at work. This means that more and more people are online than ever before. With today’s modern technology, even young children have online access through the means of home computers, phones with Internet access, or such devices as iPods. While this is beneficial in many ways, it also means that everyone needs to be aware of the many ways to keep themselves, and their children, safe while they are online.Here are some tips to maintain safety online.
Chats rooms are a fun way to communicate with friends and strangers alike. Many people go into chat rooms seeking an interesting conversation on a topic of common interest. You may visit a chat room simply to socialize with people your own age about common interests, or to just make a new friend. This is all well and good, provided you play it safe. Not only do chat rooms provide this type of interaction and socialization, they can also pose certain risks and dangers if you do not take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. This is an especially important factor in regards to children and young teens using the Internet.
I actually have a wonderful friend who lives on the West coast whom I met online about 11 years ago. She has been a wonderful friend to me through the years, so not all people you meet online are bad. Not only can you find honest, decent people who have the potential to become real friends in chat rooms, there may also be some less than respectable people among them. With the anonymity provided by the Internet, anyone can access a chat room claiming to be someone they are not. Sexual predators, pedophiles, or other unscrupulous characters may lurk about in chat rooms trying to gain information about fellow chat room participants. Anyone using a chat room needs to be mindful of what kind of personal information they reveal about themselves or other chat room participants while in a public chat room.
Personal information such as address, phone number, or specifics about where you live, should never be revealed in a room full of strangers. For example, simply revealing the name of the state you live in and then inadvertently mentioning the name of your school, along with your first name, may give some people enough information to have the potential to track you down. The unsavory types are very crafty, and may try to engage a potential victim in conversation to find out more about them and squeeze out details in a subtle way during the conversation. Many times the potential victim is only aware that they are engaging in conversation, not giving out pertinent information that could somehow bring harm to them.
Keep in mind while in a chat room, that the person you are chatting with may not actually be who they state they are online. For example, a 53-year-old pedophile named Jeff may pretend to be 15-year-old Jeff in order to engage a young, unsuspecting girl into having a conversation with him. Since the girl believes he is in her peer group, she may be more likely to give out personal details and information this person has no business knowing. This could also go for any other type of online predator,for any number of crimes they may attempt to commit such as sexual assault or robbery. Stress the importance of chat room safety with your children. Use parental safety features offered on some Internet browsers, and monitor your children’s use of the computer. Continually remind them of what information they should not reveal about themselves online.
Online dating has become increasingly popular as well. If you are interested in this type of service, it may be safer to explore an reputable online dating service that screens clients. Obviously, this cannot ensure that anyone you meet through any online dating service is a safe person. Use your own good judgment, and perhaps do a background check on them before meeting. Several online sites offer criminal history checks using little information on the person for a fee. Also, never, under any circumstance, meet someone online for a date without letting someone close to you know where you will be. Fill this person in on location and time of the scheduled date, and check in periodically to ensure that all is well, or to signal for help if things are taking a strange turn that makes you uncomfortable.
Meeting anyone in person that you have met online can be risky business. Many friendships have been made, many romances have been successful, but there is also a dark side to meeting someone you’ve met online. To stay safe, remember to never meet someone from online alone. Always take someone else with you, or have them trail slightly behind you to keep an eye on things. Again, always let someone know where you will be and at what time. Always meet in a public place the first few times, until you can determine if this person is who they claimed to be, and until you feel they can be trusted.
Sometimes, when meeting or dating someone you have met online, you can be fooled for some time before finding out the truth about the person. There have been horror stories of people being taken for all of the money by some they met online, and many other horrific tales of adults and children being tricked into meeting someone online who ended up sexually assaulting them or even murdering them. Do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen to you or someone you love. A close friend of mine once had a long distance relationship with a woman he met online. They never met in person, although he would have, give the opportunity.Many months passed, yet he found her unwilling to reveal certain information about herself. Then one day, when on the phone with her, he overheard someone calling her by an entirely different name than he knew her by. Over time, things became more shady and he was growing suspicious that she may not be who she said she was, and may even be married. Eventually, she just disappeared and cut all contact, forever leaving him to wonder.
It is much easier for someone online to deceive you than it is if you were face to face. A person can say anything they like while online and you have no way of knowing if what they are saying is true, or if they are just writing pretty words to gain your trust. Even the most unlikely people can become a victim of someone who claims to a be modern day Prince Charming, but in reality ends up being more like the devil himself. Keep your guard up and don’t believe everything you read in a chat room. Also keep in mind that if you are not using a video chat or at least a microphone with audio, you will be unable to watch the person’s eyes , see facial expressions, or hear the tone of their voice. These can be very telling in revealing if a person is feeding you a line of rubbish or being honest. In summary, there is a lot that you cannot tell about a person by simply reading their words. People can be deceptive and misleading in person, but with meeting them online it is much harder to determine if this is the case or not.
For general safety online, be extra careful when someone asks you to send them a picture. Make sure your photos do not reveal too much, either physically or otherwise. You do not want to encourage any of the unsavory types in any way. Make sure your home address or street sign does not appear in the photo. Keep any vehicle license plates out of photos as well, as these can easily be tracked right to your door. Any clothing with revealing information should not be shown in photos, as this could revel your location, last name, or where you attend school, all making it easier for someone with bad intent to locate you. Avoid sending suggestive photos online, as you never know who you will encouraging and may be setting yourself up for future problems.
Playing it safe online cannot be stressed enough. Whether in a chat room, using an online dating service, or meeting people you’ve met online, follow these safety precautions and anything else that you may think helpful. Nothing can ensure complete safety online, but these measures will certainly improve your chances of staying safe.