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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I e-mailed her and 4 days later, she e-mailed me back. I still have that e-mail, dated 10th September 2002.
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.
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.