These past few days have been a whirlwind of activity behind the scenes of a soaping forum that I recently joined. Why? It seems that one of the members joined under several names and posted as both genders, often speaking to themselves, about themselves. Why would this matter? Well, if you belong to a forum of any kind, I am sure that when you are there, you feel as if you know some of the people. In fact, you probably have some that you even consider as friends. While I have not belonged to this particular site for very long, I have been reading it off and on for two or three years, so I was familiar with some of the long-time members, which immediately lead me to a certain level of comfort with that group of people. But, on other sites, such as Etsy, I would go so far as to say that I have developed friendships, yes they are "internet" friendships, but they are friendships none the less.
In this particular instance, the avatar in question garnered trust, then gained a few real email addresses, and a more than one home address. The real "why" is not truly known, but of course we can all speculate. What is known for sure is that a female avatar privately contacted some people through the site, and talked up a male avatar, creating a "sisterhood" type feeling, and then, through a ruse, got the real email address of the target. Once contacted through the regular email, this female persona asked the target to contact her, and also sent a message through the forum, asking the same. When advised "her" email was received she proceeded to get more personal in "her" comments, and attempted to get the target to discuss the male avatar in greater depth. Then the male avatar contacted the target and attempted to get the home address by offering his help with certain supplies.
In each case, the results were the responsibility and the fault of the target. Having been one of those targeted people, I can say this with assuredy, however, it could have been YOU! Now I didn't give out my address, in fact, I turned down the gift offer, but I did give out my email address, and I did participate in some banter with the female character that contacted me. It took a few emails for me to get uncomfortable and terminate my response. In fact, had it not been for someone else's experience, I would probably still be thinking that this female was just a bit out there for me and that the make was just nice and I was silly for not accepting his offer. Shoot, even my own Mother asked me why I turned him down!
Fortunately for me and probably many others, but not so fortunate for them, one person had a scary email from the avatar and, not only reported it to the site administrators, but spoke out on the forum.While I dare say many sites would have removed her post immediately (read Etsy here), this one did not, and a number of people wrote to the original poster, echoing her experience to one degree or another. The original post did not mention multiple personae, but after I wrote to the OP and reported the exact same conversation that they had with the female avatar, I was warned and advised to not interact with the male avatar either. Several hours and a lot of investigation later, the site admin wrote that there were four accounts banned as a result of the investigation surrounding this complaint. To my mind, this means that there were four avatars being used by one person, and who knows who was real. For that matter, was any persona real? Did this person ever tell the truth? What did they really want? Why did they do this? We will probably never know the real answers, but we do know that they were certainly up to no good!
Now, why did I bother to discuss all of this here? So that maybe, just maybe, you might take heed of my warning and be a bit more cautious in your internet dealings. Whether on an Etsy forum, or another type, new or been there for years, you simply cannot, should not, trust other posters with your private information. Even if most people are fine, nice, and honest, all it takes is that one that is not. ONE bad apple can ruin your day, your safety, and even your life! Just like that one second that you take your eyes off the road can either be alright, or it cause you to wreck your car killing someone, that one time that you deviate from your normal, cautious self and offer your personal information can lead to disaster. You are completely in charge of your destiny in this respect, so make good choices!
The Admin of one of my on-line forums gave us the following links to read more about safety. I am passing them along in the hope that you too will, not only look them up, but heed their advice. We all know what we should do, but we tend to become complacent, especially when nothing bad has happened to us, or someone we know, for a while. The longer we go without something bad happening to us, the more comfortable and complacent we tend to get. So let this be a wake up call to us all! Don't wait until something bad happens to you or a close friend of yours! Be PRO-ACTIVE!