Have you ever confided in a “friend” that you met online? Did you share an intimate secret with them?

Being curious, interested or lonely can sometimes make us want to meet this virtual “friend” in person. But who is hiding behind this person? What are their real intentions?

To make contact and meet someone “in person” without taking precautions can be risky.

Even though some of these meetings may be fun, you are exposing yourself to risks when you decide to meet in person someone with who you have only had contact on the web:

  • Maybe this person is using a false identity (gender, age, etc.)
  • Maybe this person is hiding their real intentions (physical aggression, rape, blackmail, threats, kidnapping, etc.)

Even if you don’t meet your web friend “in person”, you are still exposing yourself to risk by meeting them if you have given this person personal information that can help them to track you: the name of your college, of your street, of your regular bus route… By accumulating all of this information, someone can find you. Do you really want that person knocking on your door without first being invited?

You play role games online. You chat with another player for a few weeks. The conversation is pleasant and easy. The other player suggests that you meet for supper at a restaurant and you accept.

From the beginning of the evening, you realize that the other person is very aggressive in their speech and you start to be afraid. You want to leave but are afraid that the other person will become even more aggressive. The problem is that you did not make an exit plan in case things did not turn out the way that you planned.

You open up with someone that you have just met online through an online dating group for people under 25 years old. These conversations make you feel good. You quickly want to meet in person. When you get there, you realize that this person is not 20 years old. More like 40…

You chat online with someone using the pseudonym “Melanie 18”. After several conversations, Melanie wants to meet you: the way you express yourself cracks her up. She gives you her address so that you can go pick her up. You did not think about safety. You show up, only to find out that there is no Melanie, but rather a group of guys threatening to beat you up…

As soon as you start chatting online with a stranger you need to be vigilant. Here are some suggestions:

  • Never give out personal information (name, address, school, phone number, activities and where they take place, names of your friends, etc.).
  • Make sure that the networking site allows private conversations.
  • Try not to share your weaknesses or your problems: the other person may use them to manipulate you and eventually see you as a victim.
  • Pay attention to your feelings, to what seems strange: is the other person too perfect? Does he or she give their real age? Do they give their real gender?
  • Keep control of the conversation: if you don’t want to talk about a certain topic, clearly state so.
  • Be very careful if you decide to turn on your webcam. The other person may try to get you to undress to your underwear and use the images against your will.
  • If you have any doubt about the intentions or credibility of the other person, do not hesitate to signal them to the site administrator or moderator. These people may already have received similar complains: they will be able to intervene effectively (e.g. expulsion or a police report).

Do you still want to meet someone “in person”? Before doing so, we strongly advise that you meet by videoconference, i.e. Skype. By first meeting in a videoconference, you will have a better idea of who they are. If they refuse, you should already be wary of their intentions. Careful! The other person may record your meeting. Do not do or show anything that you might later regret (see the section on digital reputation).

During your first meeting “in person”:

The following suggestions may seem obvious to you, but they are essential and worth repeating:

  • Make sure that someone you trust knows where you are meeting as well as the real name or pseudonym of the person you are going to meet.
  • Meet in a public place.
  • Suggest that you them meet with one of your friends. If the person insists on meeting you alone, you should doubt their intentions.
  • Have a mobile phone with you.
  • Avoid giving out personal information.
  • Prepare a scenario that will allow you to leave quickly in case you don’t like the way it is going.
  • Leave the meeting in a secure way: ideally, choose a popular and well-lit place.
  • Refuse to be brought back home.

Following such a meeting, if you were victim of threats, harassment, aggression or rape, contact the police right away. Do it even if you don’t know the other person’s real name.

It is also recommended to report any aggression to the administrator of the website where the first contact was made.

In all cases, do not hesitate to contact your college’s Student Services department to get help or advice. They are trained to help you.