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Teenagers & Online Personal Security

During my career I’ve come across many cases of adults meeting people online who turn out to be completely different people. There are a variety of reasons why someone may want to do this but as a parent or a young adult, you should be conscious that some of these reasons can be very cynical. You may refer to them as “catfish” because of the MTV series which is a great show to watch because it highlights how common it is for someone to hide behind a fake facade pretending to be someone else, sometimes for genuine reasons and others not so genuine. If you put the right keywords into Google, you will also come across a number of what can only be described as ‘vigilante’ groups who seek out paedophiles by themselves pretending to be a teenage boy or girl posing as a potential victim. After posing as the teenager for a period of time whilst speaking to the person who is trying to lure their victim to a meeting spot, the group will greet that individual with cameras and verbal abuse with an aim to post the footage online in order to expose them. The point is that this is clearly happening more often than most of you realise and should therefore be taken seriously.

This post and it’s very limited content offers a brief overview of what can be done to try and help prevent either yourself or your child/ children become a victim.

Case Study

"About a year ago, when I was 15, my friend and I went into a chatroom on the internet.

We'd never done it before and thought it would be fun.

Sounded nice

We soon started chatting to a boy, he said he was 19.

We would chat to him for an hour each day.

He sounded a nice person and gradually he started to ask personal questions about us, even what we thought about going out with older lads.

Said yes

After a week he asked us if we wanted to meet him.

We immediately said yes, we thought it would be Ok and we hadn't heard anything about chatroom dangers.

And because there were two of us, we thought we would look out for each other.

Nobody knew

Three days later we agreed to meet him outside the local McDonalds because it was a crowded area and we didn't want to meet him anywhere that was too quiet.

We didn't tell anyone about what we were going to do, we just thought it would be a laugh.

He gave us his mobile number so we could call him when we arrived there.

Two men

At 8.00pm we were approaching McDonalds where we saw two men standing around looking like they were waiting for someone.

We stayed back and rang the mobile number we were given.

When we did this we saw one of the men answer his phone.

Ran home

We knew straight away that these men were waiting for us.

First of all there were two of them and they were not 19, they looked more like in their 40s.

We both got really scared and ran home.

One of the guys kept ringing me to see where we were so I turned my phone off.

He kept phoning for a couple of days, then he stopped. I didn't feel too worried because he didn't know where we lived.

Very lucky

The reason I'm telling my story is that I want other young people to know about the dangers of chatrooms.

My friend and I put ourselves in a very dangerous situation but luckily we were Ok.

From our experience we urge everyone not to give out any personal information about yourself in chatrooms.

And definitely do not arrange to meet anyone, because you just don't know who you've been talking to."

'Sandra', 16, Middlesbrough (Resource - BBC NEWS)

Firstly, what I am going to advise should be exercised with a level of caution as to not come across as too suspicious or paranoid.

Personal Information - Endeavour to find about the person that you’re speaking with. What is their name? Where do they live? What school do they go? Etc

Red flags:

No photograph - When creating any social media account, we are always asked to upload a profile photo so always be cautious of someone who doesn't have one. Consider asking to see a picture of them. If they refuse, then the chances are that, something’s not right.

Too good to be true? - Are they saying all the things that you want to hear? Sometimes you will engage with someone who is on the completely same wavelength as you but when you have only met them online and not in person yet, please consider your next steps carefully.

No contact number - If you have been communicating with someone via social media or an online chat platform, then why wouldn’t they want to give you their contact number?

No verbal discussion - Of course everyone is different, some are shy, some simply prefer to talk using text only but a reluctance to speak on the phone or Skype is a huge red flag.

Inconsistencies - If the person you’re speaking with keeps contradicting themselves about either their personal life/ background or a specific story, then it is probably a complete lie.

Recommended Precautions and Steps to Take

Personal Information - Endeavour to find about the person that you’re speaking with. What is their name? Where do they live? What school do they go? Etc

Confirming Identity - Use social media to confirm the identity of someone you've met online. One way to do this would be to go to Facebook and enter the person’s name into the search bar. If it’s a common name, you can enter their name along with their school name and/ or the town where they live which should reduce the amount of results significantly. Hopefully they will have a photograph on their profile that matches the one you’ve seen on the profile belonging to the person you’ve been speaking with.

Checking Photographs - By saving a photograph of the person you’re speaking with to your desktop, you can then drag it Google Images ( This will show you websites/ pages and profiles where this image is already being used. If it belongs to someone else, you should alert the person and the police on a non-emergency contact number which in the UK is 101.

Social Media Profiles - If you do search social media profiles and find a match using the methods outlined above, look into how many friends they have. It is very easy to create a fake profile but not so easy to make one that appears genuine. Check the friends list and ensure that those friends are from the same locality, school etc.

Meeting - If you do chose to meet someone face to face, do it in a busy environment which offers natural security simply by other people being nearby. DO NOT consider meeting anyone if any of the red flags outlined above have arisen. DO NOT meet anyone without letting someone responsible know about it.

As I mentioned earlier, this information is relatively limited so if you have followed the steps above and are still unsure, I would strongly encourage you to engage the services of a company who are able to conduct background checks. Vanquish Investigation Services are a genuinely great company who can help with this. They have a specialised service called “Online Dating Checks” which enable you to do specific checks such as confirming the identity of someone instead of you having to pay for a full background check.

If you would rather contact me for advice then please feel free to do so and I will do my best to respond as quickly as possible. Simply click on the “contact” link at the top of the website.

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