We live in a world that is more and more like a fishbowl. There are so many ways in which a person can be watched or observed, it is almost disturbing. Much of our lives are lived connected to the world through electronic devices, whether it be computers, smart phones, tablets, video game systems or anything else. With this comes a certain level of anonymity, but also vulnerability. Sometimes, we are safe and secure in our little bubble. And then sometimes our lives and privacy are so brutally invaded that it really is our worst nightmare come true.
This is the day and age of online dating. So many people use dating sites to meet new people that it has become more common than meeting someone in person. That being the case, it opens people up to an onslaught of crazy. Because online you never know for sure who you are speaking to, a lot can happen. So what happens when weird or awkward becomes frightening and threatening? What do you do if you end up with a stalker?
A friend recently had a harrowing experience with a stalker and she took many steps to ensure that she was protected from his attack and future attacks. Here are some ideas based on her experience.
Don’t be too quick to hand out your phone number!
Now my friend was smart about this, she didn’t give out her number to the stalker, but many people do this and quickly. Dating sites allow you a messaging forum to talk to prospective dates, some even offer secure calls through the site that will protect your phone number from being displayed. Utilize these means. Especially if you have a smart phone where you can access online messages, why give a total stranger so much access to your life? Best to maintain distance until after you have met in person and determine if they are sane and worth pursuing.
Keep Your Personal Data Personal
Your full name, date of birth, birthplace, etc…these are things that a stranger online does not need to know. Whether you are interested in pursuing a relationship with this person or not, it is ALWAYS best to exercise caution! Even just giving a person your full name can allow them to find you on Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media site and invade your life. This did happen to my friend and she felt deeply violated.
Think before you share
When you are chatting with someone, you never know what information they can use to piece together an idea of who and where you are, even if you keep your valuable personal data private. What type of car you drive seems like a harmless fact to share. So does the neighborhood you live in. However these facts, in combination with a picture of yourself is just the amount of information a determined (and crazy) person needs to find you.
Again, this happened to my friend, and when she got the messages from the stalker online, he described her car in detail, where she parks, which apartment she lived in, and who would come to see her at the apartment, he even watched in her window and could see her on her computer. Scary stuff, especially since she did not know his real name or what he looked like. Moral of the story is be very careful with what you share with strangers, because the devious mind can do a lot with a little information.
Do NOT get overly confident in your anonymity online
People tend to get overly aggressive online with their opinions. So if in the course of your interaction with a person online, you decide that you are not interested or you find someone else, or they offend you, do not react in an extreme negative fashion! This may provoke crazy stalker behavior and, well, it is just poor manners. While the internet is a nice forum to vent all of your negative feelings (seemingly without repercussions), taking it out on a stranger is unkind and can incite irrational behavior.
So these are the basic guidelines that you should follow in your interactions online to avoid the potential for stalkers to find and target you. Just always remember to play it safe and protect your identity and privacy. If someone is insistent on getting your personal information, leave them alone and don’t bother. They are not worth your time! Protect yourself and your information!