Protecting yourself in internet relationships
by Paula Host

Warning Signals and Self-Protection
Suppose you have met someone via the internet who appeals to you. There are several precautions you can take and a number of warning signals to watch for - signals that can tell you the person on the other end of the chat, forum or email relationship is not what he or she appears to be.

How do you protect yourself?
Be aware of the red flags listed below.

Run your relationship past an unafflicted family member or friend for a second opinion. Listen to his or her responses. Tell your online partner up front that you will be doing this. If the online person insists that you keep the relationship a secret, it's a sure bet that there are troubled waters ahead.

If at any time your instinct tells you that something is wrong ... it probably is. Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.

Internet Relationships: Red Flags
Some warning signs that you need to watch for in ALL romantic involvements, and especially on the internet with someone you have never really met:
[list][*]Pay attention to displays of anger, intense frustration or attempts to pressure or control you. Acting in a passive-aggressive manner, making demeaning or disrespectful comments or any physically inappropriate behavior are all red flags.[*]Abusive or controlling behavior: Give and take, tempered by some compromise here and there, indicates that a relationship is healthy. However, if one of the persons involved wants everything on his/her terms, then serious problems can arise. Furthermore, there are those who will become verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive if they do not get their way.[*]Argumentative and irritating behavior: Some people are just contrary. They will question much of what you say to them, put their own twist on it, or challenge your every thought. Basically, they are full of themselves and feel that their opinion is the only one that counts.[*]Sexual behavior: If your online friend is pressuring you for cybersex, you just might ask yourself the question, "how many others have there been and how many more will there be?"[*]Inconsistent behavior: Watch for inconsistencies in information about age, interests, appearance, marital status, job, etc. Keep notes![*]Avoidant behavior: Consistent failure to provide direct answers to direct questions.[*]No contact numbers: If you've progressed to telephone contact, and any of the following situations sound familiar, be prepared to further investigate the possibility of a spouse, live-in, or other situation you may not be aware of:
[list][*]You have to page them for them to call you back.[*]They use a separate line. If so, try calling their main line at random times.[*]You can only call during certain periods of time (if this applies to you, try calling at different time periods to see who answers the phone).[*]They will only call you, therefore not allowing you to call them.[/list:u][/list:u]
Protecting Yourself Online
You may enjoy flirting online with that 25-year-old blonde female hottie with the psych degree ... but imagine how surprised you would be to discover that the "young lady" you've been flirting with online, is really a balding middle-aged male factory worker with a beer belly? The sad fact is, the person that you are involved with could be lying to you. Deception via internet is incredibly easy. An exchange of pictures via email means nothing. Go slowly. Meet regularly in the same chat room with others around and see how your love interest treats those others - and how the others interact with him or her.

Do's and Dont's of Internet Romance
It's important to remember that online we never really know who we're talking to or what they're real motives are. Until you can internalize that fact, the internet is a dangerous place for you to be spending time.

Safety on the Net
When giving out your geographical location, limit yourself to region only, rather than the exact name of the town, province or neighborhood.

NEVER, EVER give out your work or home phone number to unfamiliar people! Establish a LONG, LONG record of trust before agreeing to do this.

If you must talk on the phone, get the telephone number to a pay telephone near you, and arrange a time when you can be at that phone. Make sure the pay phone you select is able to receive incoming calls. Be Safe!!

If you're going to put your picture on the internet, you have NO reason to believe it's going to stay where you put it. In fact, anybody can right click on an image and take it from a web site. That person that you send it to just might decide to pass it on to friends, and who would know? Remember, once you put it up, you have NO idea where it's going.

Don't brag. You're sending an open invitation to those who would defraud you, if you tell them you own a house or two, a few cars, etc. Limit how much information you give out!

When you settle on a single relationship, make sure you set up a secondary email account to be used just for this relationship. You can quickly shut it down should things seem not right.