ME and Ophelia

Monday, January 05, 2004

Beware: Online dating goes behind bars

My Internet dating experiment, carried out over the past week, to explore a few websites that are free of charge with no vetting, is now over.

Theoretically, at the outset, I anticipated the biggest hurdles would concern privacy and ID issues. In reality, I quickly found that by not taking any personal risk, these hurdles become insurmountable obstacles.

In the absence of third party vetting or a mechanism for authenticating personal identification, it is impossible to build any trust and move forward without taking chances involving personal risk.

One cannot verify a stranger's ID - not without first disclosing to that stranger one's real name, proper email address, location and telephone number. Nicknames, hotmail type addresses and cellphone numbers appear suspect after the initial exchange of several e-mails.

Answering personal ads electronically, or by land mail to a PO Box number, speaking to a stranger over a payphone or meeting in person at a neutral location, gives no real clues. These days, confidence tricksters know all the tips. So, take people on face value or what?

My cat Ophelia has a vaccination certificate book. It is a log of her annual booster shots giving her a clean bill of health, signed and dated by the vet, each November. Should she go missing, she can be traced through the microchip in her neck and to her health certificate on her vet's computer. Seriously, people ought to come with health passports too, including tests for STD and AIDS.

Banks and credit card companies have succeeded in overcoming ID verification problems, so there must be a solution for better online dealings with strangers. Our Government's introduction of a National ID Card could help. But there would probably need to be some sort of 'pin' number matching each person to their ID Card. I find these issues fascinating and hope to write more at a later date.

On looking into the etiquette of online dating, and the safeguards and precautions one should take before embarking on internet dating, I found DateSmart, a site on background checks, private investigation, dating lies, deception and love. Here is an excerpt:

Who Are You Really Talking To
What Do they Really Want?

It's amazing. You go to a chatroom or IRC for the first time and there are people there! Talking, laughing, joking around, playing ways and even "painting" pictures with ASCII art. At first you're hesitant. Learning the program, just watching the conversations. Sooner or later, you're ready to start talking to them.

It's easy to assume that this entire medium is safe. Harmless even. After all, you're in the safety of your home or office. They don't know you, they don't know where you are. You can be anyone you want! You can even design a new persona.

You don't know them either ...

The fact is, while many people are very serious about meeting others on the internet for the purpose of establishing a meaningful relationship, others just aren't. How do you know? Sincere people don't put on an act, insincere people do.

Who's seriously there to meet others and who isn't? By following the basic tips covered here, you can often get a feel by just calling them (or not getting their number or real e-mail address after time) of whether or not they're for real, but here are some other ways you can tell.

"How do I know if he or she is really telling me the truth about ...?"

For those of you have been wondering about a person's age, marital status, etc., and how you can go about getting the facts, here's a great web resources specifically devoted to online dating. This is an extremely affordable service that can provide you with all of the information you've been looking for.

With so many people asking the same question - perhaps now is the time to closely examine how to tell if the person you are dealing with on the "net" is, in fact, the person they are purporting to be.

But how? How do we determine this? If we come out and blatantly interrogate them, they will no doubt be offended. On the other hand, this micro-scrutiny may well be what we have to resort to - and in turn, we must be prepared to subject ourselves to the same. Still, a cunning and masterful liar will jump through any hoops to satisfy their goal - so, after some thought, I have put together, based on my own experiences and insights, a list of possible ways to determine if you are dealing with an honest person.

1. Listen To Them!

I cannot stress enough the importance of real "listening" to the person you are dealing with. Of course, the notion of "listening" to someone's words on the screen is ridiculous - but if you consider that in the sense they are "speaking" to you - this makes perfect sense. Do they sound too good to be true? We'd all really like to believe the person we are coming to enjoy knowing and speaking with is exactly as they say they are. We want noting more than to take them at fact value. But reading these stories we find often that the real-deal is the exception rather than the rule. Read what they are writing - pin them down on "iffy" details - if they refuse to be pinned, or remain evasive, consider that a RED FLAG and proceed with caution... [end of excerpt]
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And we need to act accordingly to avoid deceit and unpleasant surprises

Wildxangel is a dating advice site and a "must read" for anyone using the Internet as a way to meet new people. Here are some extracts:

--"Keep in mind when reading letters on this site that in a lot of cases relationships started on the net will fail due to common reasons; e.g.. looks, personality, family/ethnic background, etc. Hence, the reason a lot of these fail is not due to fact that they started on the net. However, in most of the same cases these relationships would never have started without the net in the first place!"

--I've done the 'net thing for the last year or so and have had good and bad experiences. I am an officer in the military and move around frequently making it hard for me to really connect to a community. Also, I don't care for bars too much. So I tried the internet and used both American Singles and I've had mixed results ranging from the normal "no chemistry" dates, two serious relationships, to one woman who got drunk and went psycho on me during our first (and LAST) date. As a whole, most of the people I met were above board.

--My advice to other readers: take the precautions offered on this great site, take your time, and don't dwell on the past. Be honest, forthright, and above board. People on the 'net are real people and we need to act accordingly to avoid deceit and unpleasant surprises.

--I would also suggest that, if you're serious about meeting someone, don't fall into the trap of confining yourself to the Internet. Enlighten yourself. I suggest a couple of books: Dr. John Gray's "Mars and Venus on a Date" and Dr. Joy Brown's "Dating for Dummies."

--These good reads will get you on board the "clue train" in short order! Then get out and try volunteer work, join a club, socialize in public, and even take a jab at the newspaper personals. Don't put yourself on house arrest and rely exclusively on a computer to meet that special woman...get out of the house! Work on your social skills in public...they come in handy on that first date!"
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A Gentleman's Internet Companion

One chap wrote to Wildxangel with this piece advice for GoodGuys on the net.
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Trust yourself, if you feel something is wrong, you're probably right

Here are some more tips from DateSmart on Internet relationships - and stories of predators lurking on the Internet:

--Is there something you can't quite put your finger on? Learn the early warning signs of trouble in your relationship. Do any of these sound familiar to you? If so, click a behaviour for assurance that you're not alone and for more information.

--If you are not getting a real e-mail address from them after several anonymous e-mail addressed letters and chats, challenge them for the real deal. Ask them point blank if they're married.

--Remember: "If it sounds too good to be true, then it is!"

--People you've never met, with any morals or values at all will never accept assistance from a stranger.

For British readers: If you have encountered some kind of online fraud you may wish to read the advice that the Metropolitan Police have published on their Fraud Alert website.
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Web's largest business pairs up with another huge industry: prisons

On reading about people's experiences on the Internet, I found this eyeopener Internet dating goes behind bars - a report written by Mary Wiltenburg, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, August 2003. Here is an excerpt:

Marvin Span has been locked up for three years, his felony case tied up in appeals. In his online ad, he's draped over a faux-Grecian statue in what looks like the courtyard of his Rhode Island jail. He's "sincere, serious romantic and very intelligent and understanding." He's even, he writes - for the right woman - "willing to relocate."

Online dating, the Web's largest trackable source of consumer dollars, drew $300 million last year. Prisons, one of America's largest industries, are worth an estimated $40 billion. Maybe it was only a matter of time before the two paired off. Their love story begins with the birth of the Internet: In 1996, as far as anyone can reconstruct, a handful of rudimentary prison-penpal sites started out with a few ads apiece.

Today, convict matchmaking giants like and claim between 7,000 and 10,000 ads, and scores of competitors: from the straightforward ( to the suggestive ( to the uncomfortably mercantile.'s headline ad this week instructs: "To write to Diana, please add her to your Shopping Cart, then continue browsing ads or proceed to Checkout."

Some, particularly victims' rights advocates, oppose the ads. Others champion them as a humane way to keep inmates connected to society. [end of extract]
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Notes to readers and self:

In past years, some facilities have discussed giving inmates limited access to the Internet. What do you think?

I'm on the side of the victims' rights advocates, and opose the ads. Yes, I agree that the above is a humane way to keep inmates connected to society, but prisoners should not be at liberty to be connected to society as freely as those who have not offended.

Generally speaking, prisoners are locked up because they have caused trouble and are a menace to society. They should not be given any opportunity to disguise their identity and location by using a cellphone, pager, fax or computer. Not everyone in Britain is online. Prisoners are not "deprived" without access to computer and the Internet, in the same way that they are not "deprived" without access to a car and cellphone.

Note to self: check HM Prison Service policy on inmates access to matchmaking services, personal ads and the Internet.
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Another gem via Joi Ito's Web

Ev: "Come to think of it, this is a corollary to one of my favourite truisms: We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions."

Joi: "Yup."
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Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Congratulations to English born Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, on being awarded a knighthood.

Following recent controversy over honours, several letters from readers appeared in the Sunday Times. Colonel Sir Martin Coath's letter, my favourite, is a good example of English humour:

PERSPECTIVE: Shock, horror. Three hundred people turned down honours over a period of 70 years. So less than 0.2% of recipients turn the offer down. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill? Robert Taylor, Kidlington, Oxfordshire

ENEMIES: I am reminded of Maurice Bowra's observation when Warden of All Souls': "One should always accept any honours offered; to do so gives such pain to one's enemies." Michael Norman, Ipswich

WORTHY: I was displeased to read all the criticisms in your paper of our excellent honours system. In my considerable experience those honoured are invariably worthy recipients of their honours.
Colonel Sir Martin Coath
KGB, CB, BSE, MFI, GCSE (Woodwork), Sevenoaks, Kent.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 1/05/2004
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