Potential dangers encountered on the internet

Just as in virtually all other aspects of life, there are persons who will use the Internet as a means to pursue criminal enterprise. Some of these may be personally hazardous to other users.

The Internet is a venue through which people otherwise extraordinarily distant and diverse may communicate with convenience. “Meeting” people on the Internet as correspondents is very easy; discerning any real information about these new acquaintances is more difficult.

No matter if you are meeting people through commercial dial-up services, commercial or free chat lines, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, online dating services, newsgroups, or in other ways, you should be aware of the possible dangers of interaction when conversations turn in a personal direction.

While danger from such links may not be readily apparent, consider that the people with whom you are communicating:

* May not be anything like they describe themselves, and may not even be the gender they claim.

* May not be providing their real name or personal information, and may be using someone else’s account or even a “hacked” account.

* May not be located where they say; the individual whom you believe to be on the other side of the country or overseas may be two blocks away.

Depending upon how you connect, never forget that your communication with a perfectly legitimate person may be seen or intercepted by a third party with much different motives.

If you experience problems during use of the internet that you find threatening or offensive, contact your service provider and the University Police Department. If you live in university housing you should also contact the Division of Housing. Copy any contact information you have on the problem person, including email user id, password or other account/name/address information obtained including the “finger” or other “who is” information your connection client may be able to provide. Keep copies of threatening or offensive messages. These will be needed to trace the offender. Penalties may range from university discipline in some cases if the offender is a university student to criminal charges. The sanctions applied will depend on the act committed. Most commercial service providers will furnish written instructions for reporting this type of problem. If you cannot get the provider to correct the problem or intervene satisfactorily, consider changing to another provider who will deal effectively with such matters.

Tips for Your Safety:

Here are some basic personal safety tips you should consider whenever participating in Internet communication, particularly of a personal nature:

* Avoid giving out personal information such as your home address or telephone number to people you meet on the net; not everyone is what he or she seems.

* Exercise caution when agreeing to meet anyone in person whom you’ve met on the net. Before you arrange any such meeting, at least try to address the following:

* Can you verify, through a third party whom you know and trust, the true identity of this person?

* Is there a way to verify the information provided by this person?

Predators on the net thrive on the anonymity of the medium. You should find ways to positively identify your potential romantic partner before you allow a meeting. Where do they work? Can you call them at work? Where do they live and what is their telephone number?

If you choose to arrange a meeting, make it on YOUR terms:

* Meet in as public a place as possible.

* Arrange your own transportation to and from the meeting.

* Bring a friend along for security; consider a “double-date” the first few times.

* Set your conditions for the encounter, and don’t let your new friend change them.

* Stay near other people and in lighted areas throughout the meeting.

* If things go awry, can you positively identify the person to the police?

* Limit meetings to public places until you are comfortable with the other person and certain of whom they are what they want from the relationship.

The net is very much like our society. The majority are people who do their best to obey the excepted rules and behave responsibly. There are always, however, potential offenders mixed in the population. Observe the same precautions on the net you do in everyday life. Beware of the possibilities, and take appropriate steps to avoid situations you know or suspect could be dangerous.

For further information on this or others safety topics please contact the University of Florida Police Department’s Community Services Division at 392-1409.