Warnings for Women Using the Web!
I've just been watching a special in A&E about the internet and the predators who inhabit it. It talked about people going to chat rooms and being misled by the people they meet online, sometimes with disastrous results. One woman was shown after the man she met online attacked her in her home, strangling and severely beating her. Seeing her battered face and hands and the marks where this sick creature had tried to cut her throat made me cringe, but it also made me realize that there was a need for more information to be available for women on the net. I have several years of internet experience and I have worked as a Security Officer and have had help from others who have more net experience than I do in teaching me some basic internet self defense.
1. Internet Romances
The biggest mistake most women make on the internet is assuming you can trust the men you meet online. While it would be nice if we could, I'm afraid it isn't so. Think about it... if you are tempted to fudge the truth a bit and tell they guy you just met online that you're a few years younger or a few pounds thinner, what's to keep him from doing likewise? One man I was chatting with had a picture up that he claimed was himself. Insisted it was, in fact...  Unfortunately for him I happened to own the issue of Playgirl it was snipped from so I asked him a few pertinent questions from the bio in the magazine and he very quickly lost interest in chatting after being unable to answer them. That's pretty minor compared to some of the things a guy might tell you to try to impress you. They aren't about to tell you they are married and cheating on their wife in most cases... You can't even be sure they are telling you where they really are. Be skeptical and wary. Follow the old adage...if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The second big mistake women make is putting too much personal information out where it can be gotten. Most chat sites ask you to fill out a profile so other people can read it to find out about you. You do not have to fill these out, and you should NEVER put your phone number or street address on such a document on the net, or on your web page if you have one. I use a "net name" for a little added safety, and have beefed up the security systems on my computer to be fairly hack proof. For extra peace of mind you may want to get multiple e-mail addresses as well; I have one for my important mail, one that gets the e-junk-mail, and one for use when I register software so that all the updates and advertising from the software companies goes to one spot, and I know that is all that will be there. That way I only have to check one account for personal messages and I only give that address to people I know face to face. It's like being able to screen your phone calls. Hotmail and Yahoo are two providers of free e-mail accounts, and there are others if you do a search on your browser. Most internet providers (the mysterious "IP's") will give you a free account for e-mail when you set up service, and if you get a web page they usually set up a mail account along with it.
If you do meet someone on the internet, and you think you want to meet them in person, get them to mail you a photo first so you will have an idea what they look like. Again, beware of phonies, and ask that they send a photo of themselves by their computer with your e-mail onscreen if you are really paranoid : )  . When you do arrange to meet that person, make a date at a coffee shop or some other public location where if you scream for help you'll get it. Take a friend or two with you for backup. I met a guy from a personal ad in a coffee shop and he insisted on coming back to my apartment. It took quite a while to get rid of him, and I had to use the threat of another guy showing up to make him go away. If I had brought a friend who could have said "Gee, we had plans for a girls' night, I'm sure you'll understand..." or a big burly male friend who could have forcibly removed the guy, it would have been better and safer for me and made him feel less rejected. If you want to bring friends and he refuses to meet you, you can pretty well assume he's not a nice guy or he's hiding something from someone.  If he does agree to meet you and your friends you will get to see how he interacts with the people who are already important to you. If he can't get along with your best friend for coffee, he probably isn't your soul mate.   Sometimes a friend, unbiased because they have not chatted with the person online, can see beyond what we can see in a stranger as well. One of my best friends used to be my barometer for dates... if she looked at the guy in question and said "Fish", I knew it meant to throw him back because he was in some way unpleasant. The one time I didn't listen to her I ended up having the guy in question kill three of my cats. Needless to say he is now on the warning list for any girls I know.
One way to tell what a guy is really like, in person or online, is to ask about his childhood and his mother. If you want to know the man, arrange to meet his mom as well. The way he treats his mom will give you a good idea about how he will probably treat you. If he's lied to you about who he is, he won't want you to meet his parents. They could tell you the truth and he would never want that. Get his home phone number, don't accept a cell phone/wireless/pager number. Call it and see who answers.  Get his home address and arrange to go past there or visit. Find out where he works and offer to meet him there when his shift ends, being sure to go in early and ask someone who works there for him. If he balks at these things, beware! If you are talking on line and you feel he may be giving the same lines to other women, get a friend to go online and try to chat him up without him knowing the connection... you can even go into a chat room under a different name and see if he takes the bait. It may seem devious, but it's your safety on the line and these days women can't be careful enough.
If you've been having an internet romance and decided to end it but he keeps sending e-mail, most providers have a "Block Sender" feature which will dump unwanted messages directly into the "trash" of your e-mail account without you ever having to see them. This also works for junk e-mail. I am surprised by how many people there are who don't seem to know about this feature; one man on the A&E special who was in an internet sex addict recovery group (apparently there are such things, the recovery groups not the addicts...) said he kept getting e-mail from porno sites that he had visited on a "drunken binge". Obviously he didn't explore his e-mail account's abilities. You can also get the telephone company to block out certain phone numbers from calling you if the guy has your home number; it's cheaper than getting an unlisted number. Once you set that up the caller gets a recorded message telling them you no longer wish to receive their calls. Drawback : it only works if you know the number and so far it doesn't work for cellular phone numbers.
2. Internet Scams
If you have ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, or any of the other chat programs, or even regular e-mail, you may have already received one of the internet chain letters. They usually say "Forward this to save little Johnny who needs a kidney transplant" or something equally tragic. There is a tantra totem going around currently, obviously created by someone who wasn't very aware of what Tantric teachings actually involve. It's relatively harmless, but still a chain letter, and chain letter e-mails are illegal, just like snail mail chain letters. If the letter doesn't have an original "reply-to" address in the body of text, there is no way that the original sender can receive any benefit from the letter in any way. If it says "Add your name and forward it to the rest of your mailing list", delete the message and forget it. Your computer will not explode, you will not have severe halitosis as a result of not forwarding the message, and your friends will thank you.
The ICQ scams are a little more creative..."If you forward this immediately to ten users your icq flower will turn into a rose" or "ICQ is going to charge for use if you don't forward this to all the users on your list". Most people don't bother to open the URL's that these little threats are attached to, they just forward it. Well, half of those URL's are fakes and the other half are sites that when you visit the site, the owner gets money from you clicking on his page. Mirabilis isn't going to charge for ICQ when there are other chat providers who still offer it for free; they would lose their customers that way.  They have other avenues for income, ICQ is now and will likely always be free. If you get an ICQ hug or something like the "PillowFight"  or "tag" ICQ games, think before you forward. While you may think it's cute, some people don't like getting these messages.
If you get an e-mail from someone saying "Run this file" for whatever reason, and it isn't from a friend, don't do it. Get a good virus checking program (Norton's or McAffee's) and run that on everything you download before you run the files. Opening an e-mail is 99% unlikely to have any hazardous effect on your system. The worst thing I've ever experienced from e-mail is when a friend tried to send me a song in wav. form through my university account and it was too big of a file for my account. I couldn't access my e-mail until the server deleted that file. If you have a hotmail account and you get a mail with attachments, It will automatically scan the file with McAffee's Virus scan program first when you open the attachment. The easiest thing to do is simply not open anything with the ".exe" or".zip" extensions unless you are sure of where it came from. Again, if you are really paranoid, back up your entire system and all files on disk or zipdrive and keep a boot disk on hand. That way, if you experience the worst case scenario of having your hard drive wiped or reformatted, you can upload everything from the disks after rebooting.  No virus that I know of can physically harm your computer, although I'm sure someone will try to come up with one.  Having a personal firewall program such as Zone Alarm is another measure of protection worth considering.
If you go to a site and they ask for a credit card number "for verification" of your age or name or any other reason, don't give it out. If you are ordering online make sure you are on an encrypted/secure server so that others can't "hack" your credit info. You may need to update your browser to accept high encryption sites, but most browsers have free upgrades and are easy to install. It's worth the extra effort. Do not put your credit card info into e-mails; it can be obtained from them easily. It's not commonly known but your e-mail gets saved in files on the systems it passes through on it's way from you to the recipient and can be recovered, as happened in the "whitewater" scandal. Programs are being created to make e-mail safer but for now think of it as equal to a party-line phone. While it isn't likely that anyone else will check out your e-mail, it is entirely possible, so keep those swiss bank account numbers to yourself.
Hopefully I've given you some useful advice and taught you the internet equivalent of keeping your doors locked. If you have any specific questions feel free to e-mail me and I'll try to get answers for you.
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