Boston, MA (PressExposure) November 12, 2008 -- Though they might never stop to give a drifter a lift on the interstate, there are many whose desire for romance will lead them to pick up the equivalent of hitchhikers online. Instant messaging, chat rooms and online personal ads have become an unavoidable part of the online experience, but who knows who might be on the other side of the keyboard?
Keeping yourself and your identity safe when youâre looking for love online is challenging, but, not impossible, according to Paul A. Falzone, CEO of The Right One and Together Dating, the largest brick-and-mortar dating service in the world.
"For every good-hearted man or woman looking for love, there is a dangerous line-up of shady characters that includes con men, liars and the most violent of criminals. Give out too much information, or even a little, as you chat and you may find yourself a victim of a cyber stalker, harassment, identity theft or worse,â said Falzone.
According to WHOA (Working to Halt Online Abuse), an organization dedicated to educating the internet community about online harassment and abuse, 73.5 percent of online harassment/cyber stalking victims (from 2000 to 2006) were female and half of them between the ages of 18-30 years of age. Of the females harassed/stalked, 16.7 percent knew the perpetrator to be an online acquaintance.
In a recent U.S. Department of Justice report, threatening email and other electronic communications were said to be factors in approximately 20 percent of the cases handled by the Los Angeles Stalking and Threat Assessment Unit. The Computer Investigations and Technology Unit of the New York City Police Department estimated that nearly 40 percent of its caseload involved threats and harassment.
Further making the case about the dangers of online interaction, a study on the sexual victimization of college women by researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that nearly 25 percent of all respondents had been victims of cyber stalking.
Most people, thankfully, wonât face extreme cases of violence. But other dangers abound, such as identity theft, which has claimed more than 9 million victims a year according to the Better Business Bureau. And, according to the Federal Trade Commissionâs National and State Trends in Fraud and Identity Theft, identity theft has been their top consumer complaint for several years.
In light of recent tragedies of online dating gone wrong and the significant rise in identity theft, Falzone offers advice on how to avoid online harassment and cyber stalking as well as compromised personal information:
*Do not fill out online profiles for free e-mail accounts that you may use when chatting or instant messaging. Even the most seemingly innocuous piece of information, when coupled with the personal information that may slip out in conversation can be used to pry into your personal life.
*Be aware that an abundance of personal information can be harvested through both free and paid Web sites. Be very leery of any additional information you may post on a personal homepage or social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook and others.
*Avoid using screen names that reveal your identity or location.
*Be sure to protect your computer and your personal information by installing and keeping computer security software up-to-date to deter online thieves.
*Don't respond to, and block, any annoying, threatening or harassing e-mail.
*When mail or phone contact is necessary, such as when using auction sites, try to use an office phone number and address or a postal box.
*Be aware of any vague or inconsistent information that a correspondent provides.
*Be skeptical of any photo they send that look too professional or âtoo good to be true.â It may just be an image pulled from the Internet.
*If you become the victim of stalking or harassing behavior, donât hesitate to report it to the legal authorities just as you would with such treatment offline. You may also be able to report such conduct to the offending parties Internet Service Provider.
*Be familiar with online resources intended to educate the public about such online issues. These sites include http://www.cyberangels.org, http://www.haltabuse.org and http://www.childrenspartnership.org.
As for online dating services, only a few do a good job of screening applicants. Unfortunately, many are open to anyone with the ability to pay the fee and post a picture (whether or not the image is, in fact, of them). Men and women alike may use the anonymity of the Web to lie about their age, appearance, marital status, name and even gender.
Whether you use an online dating or singlesâ service or even one of the âbrick and mortarâ variety, ask questions to gauge how well they will protect and serve you. Do they conduct background checks? Are their safeguards to ensure that members are not married or have criminal records? Will they offer a guarantee? Are they in good standing with local business associations and the Attorney Generalâs office?
Falzone continued, âThere is no way to be completely safe or secure when using the Internet as a meeting place. But by being skeptical, and using your head as much as your heart, it is possible to have fun without attracting unnecessary danger.â
Now catering to more than 300,000 members at over 60 locations throughout North America, The Right One and Together Dating are the largest brick and mortar dating services in the industry. The Right One and Together Dating offer a more consistent product, a greater number of potentially compatible mates and added value of flexibility in transferring memberships to another geographic region.