Some thoughts toward staying safe on this or any other public forum.
In my 25 plus years of working in school environments as an administrator and in the years I worked in law enforcement, I have found many people are too trusting at times for their own and their family’s safety. What is usually said, when a sexual predator is finally caught and arrested? “He was the nicest man, we trusted him like a member of our family, he was so interested in the students, he gave so much of his time to the youth of the church/town, he didn’t seem like a sexual predator, etc..” Remember the old saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” The same is true of sexual predators.
Public forums on the Internet have become the number one way that predators search for potential victims.
Some items to think about:
1. Always be a little suspicious while dealing with people you don’t know.
2. Does the other person (the poster) try to stay anonymous?
3. If they have a web site do they try to stay anonymous?
4. Do they try to “groom” you by offering advice by Private Message? (PMs)
5. Are there patterns to their postings and personal interest shown?
6. Do their answers to questions tend to be somewhat vague?
7. Do they suggest a “personal” meeting ?
8. Are they vague about where they live and/or work?
While none of these above items are always indicators of nefarious intent, they may well be. Always be ready to ask yourself, why. The modern Internet of today, has become a “hunting” grounds for sexual predators. Some people in life have a “need” to maintain their privacy and not wish to be identified. Many women, on the Internet, attempt to disguise the fact that they are females due to unwanted advances from other people. Some people are trying to stay away from stalkers, etc. However anyone that is suggesting a face to face meeting with you or your family and refuses to identify themselves, in a checkable manner, should be viewed with much skepticism.
From the list above:
#2 Ask yourself why. The standard answer given will be “trying to protect my identity or keeping myself from identify theft.” Perhaps an honest answer or it may be they don’t want to give out enough information so that someone can check to see if they have a criminal past. Most identify thefts occur from the personal use of credit cards at restaurants, at gas stations, anywhere a person is giving another person their credit cards, mail being taken from mail boxes, etc. Identify theft on a forum such as this would be somewhat remote, IMHO, since the information thieves desire, SS numbers, financial account numbers, birthdates, etc. are not commonly exchanged here.
#3 Many people have personal web sites. Do they have photos of themselves on it? Or again are they trying to remain anonymous? Again why?
#4 If you ask a question on a forum, do they respond in the public area or do they “want” you to contact them by PM? Most questions are of general interest to more than one person. Why are they trying to single you out and get, one on one contact, with you? If you mention that you have a specific need, perhaps a family member with special needs, do they let you know they deal with the same situation and you should PM them for more information? These human predators are just like the predators of the Serengeti Plains of Africa, divide and conquer or said another way, separate the victim from the herd. Don’t allow yourself or family members to be separated from the group, literally or figuratively.
#5 Watch for patterns. If someone posts that they are going to be in a certain area with their children and are looking for activities, do certain posters seem to automatically get interested and respond? My personal experience has taught me that, especially with men, if they seem too good to be true toward children, be careful. This is a very fine line. I am so thankful of the men that served as my scout masters while I was growing up. All good men. However many convicted, child sexual predators, have made contact with the child through some youth organization, coaching, church work, teaching, etc. Most child molesters usually know the child through some organization or through the child’s parent. (s) Children are much more trusting if their parents know the perpetrator
#6 Will they clearly answer where they live and work. Again are they open or are they still trying to hide their identify. If they are so concerned with “loss” of their identify, why are they participating in a public forum in the first place?.
#7 While the web sites, such as Youtube or Myspace, get the most attention from the media as “hang outs” for sexual predators, any site or forum where they can “meet” and try to cultivate a relationship with others will work for them. If you post that you are going to be in a certain location, where they live, do they contact you and indicate they would like to meet you and “answer” any of your questions about the area? In trying to set up this meeting do they want your cell phone number so that they can contact you but don’t offer you their phone number or their real name, even if you ask for this information? If you do decide to meet them, and you may be dealing with a upstanding person, ask to see a picture ID to verify their identify. Be willing to do the same. What I will do in such a meeting, I will take out my wallet, remove my photo driver’s license and say to the other person, “here is my driver’s license for you to look at and I would like to see yours.” If they refuse to show you some form of “good” photo ID, tell them the meeting is over and leave. Always meet in a very public place to do this information exchange.
#8 Most folks are willing to tell another person, they are trying to meet, where they work and live. Not necessarily by house number but at least by town, subdivision and the name of the place where they work. Again if someone is so concerned about their personal identify, why are they trying to meet other people?
At times people get lured into a sense of false safety by being on “certain” common interest type forums, such as this one. Keep in mind that sexual predators and other criminal types don’t just have that one interest. They are also interested in the myriad of issues others have, be it travel, cars, RVs, cooking, boating, work, and on and on. You can run into predators in all sorts of places.
Be Safe and keep those around you safe by always being a little suspicious of others you don’t know. As they say, trust the dealer, but cut the cards yourself. As I participate in a number of forums on the Internet, I see so many red flags being raised, that I decided to add this to my web site in the hopes that it might help someone avoid a dangerous situation for themselves or loved ones.