This past week, I reread The Brethren, a novel by American author John Grisham, first published in 2000. The novel’s plot centers on a scam in which three incarcerated Judges blackmail wealthy closeted gay men who unwittingly (through letters), provide the rogue Judges, who collectively are posing as a young gay man, with all the information needed to make the blackmail scam a winner.
In case you want to read the book (I highly recommend it – Grisham is a terrific novelist), I won’t spoil it for you by revealing additional story elements, but suffice it to say, that the naiveté of the victims in providing highly personal information, drives the plot forward.
But this is just fiction – a made up story. In “real” life this type of situation, or a situation similar to it, just wouldn’t happen, right? Ah, but it does – as illustrated in the following news report from a recent edition of the Toronto Star newspaper.
Rather than rely on snail mail, as the fictional characters in the novel do, the Internet is the weapon of choice in the following scam, as you’ll see.
Police say a number of men looking for love on the Internet found extortion instead.
Halton Regional Police allege a man joined a number of adult dating service websites posing as a woman and prospective date for male subscribers. The interested men were then persuaded to provide personal information about themselves.
Police say the information provided by the unsuspecting victims in emails, chats, texts and voice mail messages then formed the basis for extortion. There were threats to publish the information on social networking sites or send it directly to family, friends, or employers unless monetary demands were met.
Kevin Fletcher, 43, of Burlington, Ont., faces eight counts of extortion and one of criminal harassment.
The Internet and its associated tools, including those tools mentioned in the newspaper report – emails, chats, texts and voice mail messages, seems to have affected the victims’ brain functions. Normal personal security precautions appear to have been thrown out the window; including common sense – assuming they had any common sense to begin with!
I have no doubt, that the victims in this case would have benefited from reading Internet Security: There’s an App for That – Your BRAIN!, posted here earlier this year.
There’s a lesson in this sad story – establishing a personal relationship through Internet dating, despite the success stories touted in numerous television commercials, is not without risk. And, should be approached with the same sense of caution and awareness, that one would use in any Internet transaction.
That old truism – “Nobody knows you’re a Dog on the Internet” – takes on special significance when it comes to online dating.
A sampling of common sense Internet dating safety tips from the Wired Safety Website.
Do not believe everything you read online
You can be anything or anyone you want to be online. I keep trying to get people to believe that I am tall, blonde and gorgeous! (So far, no takers…). That cute brunette 24-year-old guy may not be cuter, may not be 24 and most importantly, may not be a guy. There is not truth in advertising protection when you date online.
Do not give out personal information online
Personal information that would let someone find you offline would never be shared online. Your full name, where you work, where you live, your phone number (see my note on giving out your phone number), your fax number…these should not be shared online.
Use an online dating service that uses an anonymizer or re-mailer to mask your real e-mail, or set up a Hotmail or other free account just for dating online. Cyber romance can quickly turn to cyberstalking – it is better to be able to terminate that particular account than to have to set up a new main account, and notify everyone you know.
To read the full list of Internet dating safety tips, visit Wired Safety.org.
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