Knowing me, knowing you
Similarly, assuming someone is trustworthy because they appear to know one of your friends can be a mistake. Last year, three teenage girls ended up being "groomed" and then stalked in person by a middle-aged man they met on the Bebo message boards. Each had trusted him because of his apparent online friendship with the others.
As one of the girls said after his arrest, the fact that he continued to be friendly to one of her school friends led her to overlook his odd behavior -- including his comments on their shopping trips and other events that they had discussed together online.
The cyberstalker was eventually caught when he showed up at the Tate Modern gallery. He'd learned the girls were going there for a school trip and was recognized while covertly photographing one of the girls he'd met online. They were able to alert security and the police before he escaped.
While this was a particularly nasty and dramatic case, it demonstrates another point. Reputation and the trust implicit in the apparent approval of someone by your peers is a powerful element of both our face-to-face and online interpersonal relations. It's also something that business networks such as LinkedIn and Plaxo trade on.
At LinkedIn, reputation ranking and feedback has now overtaken in importance the original goal of such sites: to build a circle of business associates and stay in touch with them as they flit from employer to employer. Be sure you keep tabs on who's saying what about you.
And reputation is all-important when convincing someone to buy goods from you online. Our own PC Advisor forums show that it's now de rigeur to find out what customers think of a company before buying from it online -- and it's even more important for small retailers.
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Let's return to our original warning about giving away your personal information freely, and the Internet acquaintances who have more than friendship in mind. This is something adults need to worry about just as much as kids and teenagers.
Internet dating is notorious as a means of disguising your true age, occupation, weight, gender, and intentions -- that's why it's so popular. If you want to use the Web to meet people, then do so safely. Use a legitimate agency that's regulated and recognized, research what others who've used the service have to say about it, and find out what checks the agency does before taking people on.
Expect some in-depth personal questions and to be asked for proof that you are who you say you are. A passport, driver's licence, proof of address, and birth and divorce certificates were routinely asked for at the bricks-and-mortar dating agency where we used to help out.
Online agencies of good repute should insist on similar assurances. If they don't check you out thoroughly, what's to say they're checking up on your next date?
Acting on impulse and simply taking information supplied by potential dates at face value is more than foolish: it's dangerous in every sense.
PC Advisor is an InfoWorld affiliate.