How Safe Are You Online? // My Bad Experiences

online safety

I have no idea why I’m writing this. Well, I do kind of. This one is going to be serious, and while I like to take a light hearted view to most things, I’m going to keep this one straight to the point, honest and joke free. Because I don’t want to cause any offence to anyone that may have been in a similar situation that got out of hand and make downplay feelings or experience so I can slip in some dumb joke.

I guess I want to spread a bit of awareness around being safe online. Especially to younger girls, or parents of teenagers.

I want to show people that even if they think they know better, it’s easier to be influenced and tricked into believing what strangers say online.

But that’s the thing about the internet, isn’t it? As well as being this magical place that allows you to create, connect and get the answer to basically an question you want, it also is a place that allows anonymity.

A place that allows someone to make up their age, their name and create online profiles at the click of a button.

It’s not until I was telling someone about this last week that I realised I could have easily been at risk of being, well, ‘groomed’ in my teens by two different men. At the time, I had no idea what was happening.

online safety

I’ve been online ever since we had Internet at home when I was 12. Chatrooms and forums were where it was at. Both of these things happened on the same forum. It was the website of a singer who I loved at the time. Her site has a forum where people would post photos of her, talk about her music and just have a general chin wag in the completely off topic board.

I was around 15 when both these things happened. Some of the details might be a tad hazy as I’ve not thought about what happened much until last week and these things happened over 10 years ago.

I’m only going to talk about one of the incidents at this time. I did set out to write about them both, but when I was re-reading the e-mails to write this post, the post got longer than I thought it was going to be.

To set the scene, I was quite an active member of the forum. I was young and most of the other members were a lot older. I’m pretty sure I was seen as annoying by most of them. I was FULL of energy and would bound in and out of threats using LOL like no tomorrow. It was also the era where most people still used text speak online. Well, I did, anyway.

I got an e-mail off a guy called Lee one day. He said he was working with the celebrity of the website to create another fan site for her. He said he could set up some private chats with just me and her. I remember feeling suspicious, but decided to go along with it.

He had me log into some chat room where he and I was, then someone logged on with her name. We chatted for a bit and she said she had to go.

I thought it was her, because Lee was also in the chat with us. If it was him pretending, he wouldn’t have been able to be in the chat with all three of us, right? I’m not sure how the internet worked back then, but I can only assumed he was using a proxy server to get two users from the same computer, or using a different browser. Did anything other than Internet Explorer exist back then though? I don’t know.

He also gave me an e-mail address, which was celebritiesname@msn.com. I e-mailed her and 4 days later, she e-mailed me back. I still have that e-mail, dated 10th September 2002.

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I’ve blanked out some of the things, just because I don’t really want to name the singer as it’s nothing to do with her, clearly. It’s not important.

The first website was her official site Lee found me on, and the second was the new website that Lee was supposedly building.

What I find frustrating is that I can’t remember how the story ends. I know there were talks of more chats with the celebrity and I can only assume he was doing this to build trust with me and either arrange a meet-up with me, or a fake meet-up with the celebrity which could have turned out really bad.

Or maybe he was just trolling me.

online safety

Thankfully, nothing like that did happen. I think I realised it was all a bit odd and stopped replying to his messages, but I can’t be certain.

So, here’s where things get interesting.

The website he said he was making and that the celebrity linked in the e-mail still exists today.

It’s exactly the same as it was in 2002 and is clearly not an official site. It’s badly designed, but that’s not the point. The point is, I’ve managed to find out his full name, his address, his Facebook profile and his current website. Also, the domain of his celebrity site was renewed in August 2015.

Of course, the guy never hurt me in any way or was sexually suggestive towards me, but I can’t see why he would set this up for any other reason, unless he just wanted attention.

My point is, when you’re young, you’re really stupid and gullible.

You’ll believe things people say, especially when it’s something you really want to believe. Having a private chat with my favourite singer was my dream. I wanted it to be true so much that I believed it.

I think I knew deep down that it wasn’t true. I knew this because it sounded stupid to say it out loud. So I never told anyone about it. These days, when I’m in some situation that I feel like I don’t what to tell anyone about, I question if it’s a situation I need to remove myself from. Fast. Whether it’s how I’m being treated by a friend or guy, or if it’s a work situation or even something online.

When I was 15, I was aware that people on the internet aren’t always who they say they are and can be weird, but grooming wasn’t a phrase that everyone knew about and there hadn’t been much information about peadophiles online trying to connect with children and young adults.

I never thought something like that would happen to me, but I had two incidents that could have ended up really badly if they had escalated.

This one was such an elaborate plan – to lie about creating a second fan site for the celebrity, to pretend to set up online chats with her, to send me e-mails from the celebrity from an MSN account. It seems extreme and intense. Was it just some sicko trying to mess with my head because he had nothing better to do? Or was it something more? I’ll never know that now, but I can be glad that I was lucky enough to never find out.

There really does need to be more awareness around this kind of thing. Children are logging on to the Internet younger than ever, having their own mobile phones with access to all kinds of websites and apps. I’ve even seen profiles on Tinder where it’s clearly an under age boy pretending to be 25. Kids aren’t always the ones that are singled out – they can sometimes put themselves in danger simply be being a curious, confused teenager. If I had a kid, as much as I would love to trust them and respect their privacy, I’m just not sure how okay I’d be with them having a password protected device connected to the internet.

No matter how smart you think your kid is, when it comes to communicating with an adult online, they’re easily influenced. They can’t see when they’re being lied to or manipulated. They can’t always tell if someone is playing games with them. If you tell them something that want to believe, if you promise to offer something they really want, they can make the wrong choices. I was a smart kid, my parents raised me well, I knew of the dangers of the internet. But look how much of an idiot I was.

Oh, and to all the sickos out there, just watch out. Because it really wasn’t hard to find your name and address, Lee. It wasn’t hard at all.

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17 Comments

  1. February 12, 2016 / 8:44 am

    This is very aptly timed. It is Internet safety week this week so this is highly relevant. I had to do a 3hour online esafety course with the nspcc on it. I’m glad this turned out ok but it is v scary to think.x
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  2. February 12, 2016 / 10:53 am

    Wow this was a really interesting post, I had some similar experiences growing up and I know of some friends that did too- and I’m glad that they didn’t escalate into something worse.

    People don’t seem to talk about these experiences because it’s almost like they ‘don’t count’ because it didn’t end really badly. But they could have. At the time I felt flattered by the attention, but I also had that feeling of not wanting to tell anyone and feeling ashamed.

    I think that parents should talk to children and teenagers about these sorts of situations, so they know the signs to look out for, and that they can stop it at any time. You can’t prevent them from accessing the internet, but you can teach them how to take care of themselves.

    Lucy
    http://www.lucyfbarnes.weebly.com

  3. February 12, 2016 / 10:54 am

    Wow this was a really interesting post, I had some similar experiences growing up and I know of some friends that did too- and I’m glad that they didn’t escalate into something worse.

    People don’t seem to talk about these experiences because it’s almost like they ‘don’t count’ because it didn’t end really badly. But they could have. At the time I felt flattered by the attention, but I also had that feeling of not wanting to tell anyone and feeling ashamed.

    I think that parents should talk to children and teenagers about these sorts of situations, so they know the signs to look out for, and that they can stop it at any time. You can’t prevent them from accessing the internet, but you can teach them how to take care of themselves.

    Lucy xx
    http://www.lucyfbarnes.weebly.com

  4. Jackie Harrison
    February 12, 2016 / 11:10 am

    I think we all are not safe online, we have to be cautious in how and who we answer.

  5. February 12, 2016 / 4:51 pm

    This was a great post! I had a similar experience when I first started on the internet (I was maybe 10 or 11) and luckily got creeped out and stopped responding to the person, but it is very scary and kids that are young or so impressionable. Thank you for sharing your experience! XO -Kim
    http://www.thethirtysomethinglife.com
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  6. February 12, 2016 / 6:12 pm

    What an important story to share, and I’m so glad that your experience didn’t end badly! Children/teens aren’t the best judge of situations, and it always surprises me how many kids have cellphones/tablets, etc. I’m not a parent yet, but I just can’t imagine giving a kid unsupervised access to something as powerful as the internet. Your post has given me a lot to think about 🙂
    Akaleistar recently posted…Bacon Roses, Fashion Films, and Other Sweet LinksMy Profile

  7. February 12, 2016 / 7:39 pm

    I guess most of us had similar experiences before. Internet was like a shiny new toy by then and we all wanted to explore it. I wasn’t really active on forums but I was using icq and msn frequently. I’ve met some nice people there, and some horrible ones too. But let’s admit it, nowadays internet is more dangerous than 15 years ago and parents do really need to pay attention to their kids, not everyone is nice! x
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  8. February 12, 2016 / 9:26 pm

    very important story to share. While nothing like this has happened to me, its very similar to alot of stories I know from other people. I too have been very active in a singers online fan community, starting right back in the late 1990s. I was in the fan chatrooms and message forums. I saw ALOT of very suspicious behaviour, including many people pretending in chat rooms to actually BE the singer. I used to be one of the people exposing these fakers, as it was really easy to catch them out on lies.
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  9. February 12, 2016 / 10:00 pm

    There’s some very sick people in the world. Great post for e-safety week. I have just helped to write lesson plans and e-safety tips for young people. Anyone can be a victim and the ploys are getting better and better. Childnet do some great resources for any young people reading this about keeping safe online Lucyx
    Lucy recently posted…My Little Box January and FebruaryMy Profile

  10. February 13, 2016 / 11:12 am

    It’s scary how many things can happen. I’m glad I was in my late teens when I had access to internet, I was mature enough to know what it’s better. Even so, it’s amazing how many potentially dangerous I’ve been in, like most kids that don’t realize.
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  11. February 13, 2016 / 5:31 pm

    Something similar happened to me and my cousin. The guy faked everything and said he was about 15 and I remember me and my cousin were about 12 and 9 (I’m older than him), and although the man wanted my cousin, he still tried to get at me so that he could build trust, and he had been arranging to meet with my cousin when my aunt and found out and went to the cops and turns out he was about 28 years old, and had been doing this to other kids, and lived right across the street from me which is pretty scary in itself.

    I think the internet is one of the most dangerous “worlds”, and if we’re not careful (and even then) we can be made to do alot of things that we don’t want to. I think that’s why often people get hurt. It breaks someones innocence and I wish kids were more careful. But indeed, I learned alot from the internet. I owe most things to having had the priviledge of having access to it.

    Ella x
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  12. February 14, 2016 / 10:28 am

    It’s scary how things can end up horrible wrong on the internet. It’s scary how we are not entirely safe everywhere. Keep safe, everyone.
    Richel V. recently posted…Lost at Sea: Burot Beach, BatangasMy Profile

  13. February 14, 2016 / 5:58 pm

    This post seriously hit home with me for two reasons. I was a pretty lonely kid, I spent summers in my bedroom sucked into the world of the Internet, on chat rooms till all hours talking to who knows who. I knew they probably weren’t who they said they were, because I was never who I said I was. It was all too easy to add a few years to your a/s/l, to tell someone you where from the Californian Coast when you’re thousands of miles in the other direction. I thought I was keeping myself safe by pretending to be someone else, but just as I lied, I’m sure others lied to me too.

    And then there was that time my friends and I pretended to be a boy from a popular boy band to teach our other friend a lesson in online safety – that ended in tears but at least she didn’t end up being taken by some psycho!

    Sarah 🙂
    Saloca in Wonderland
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  14. February 16, 2016 / 3:03 pm

    I do remember being in very similar situations when I was younger and it’s pretty worrying when you think about it!
    Saying that I always did things like walk home on my own in the middle of the night etc too, so I guess safety (or being sensible?) was never at the front of my mind!
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  15. February 16, 2016 / 9:02 pm

    This post bought back a lot of unpleasant memories for me. I’ve not talked about this since it happened, and I blame myself for the ending, but I’m going to put it here because people reading this post who pop down to read the comments can also learn from what happened to me.
    I was on a forum that was supposedly a self-harm support site. I say supposedly because looking back on it it was more triggering than helpful. But I was on it a lot, and through it I made a friend. Rachel. She lived in Leeds, I think, which wasn’t too far and my parents took me to visit her once. And she came to visit me. During this time, we had got chatting, through the forum, with a man who claimed to be a psychiatrist. We were in awe of him and moved on from private chats online to talking on the phone to him. I remember clear as day being led on the trampoline outside in my back garden, Rachel and me, chatting to this guy on the phone. We thought he was the bee’s knees, and were, I guess, honoured that he would take time out to talk to us like he did. Of course, eventually he wanted us to go see him, in a hotel. How that didn’t raise red flags, I’ll never know. I mean, he knew how to pick em. He found us on a self-harm support site, so he knew we weren’t in the best state, mentally. Luckily for me, I couldn’t find a way to get to meet him without my mum getting suspicious. But somehow, Rachel did. And the inevitable happened. He raped her in that hotel room. And when I found out I blamed myself. I still do. After that, we grew apart and I haven’t spoken to her since to be honest. But I still think about her a lot. And how much danger we were in. It’s awful to think someone would use a site like that,a site where mentally unwell teenagers go for support, to groom a young person and then screw them up even more. It makes me sick. Thank you for speaking out about your own experience and sorry for waffling on. xo
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  16. February 21, 2016 / 10:15 pm

    The internet is a scary place. That recent news story about the footballer and a young girl springs to mind. She idolised him, he took advantage and it all started online. You’re right, there really does need to be a lot more awareness about this sort of thing.
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