Staying Safe in Cyberspace

Jeanne has been considering dating online but is hesitant. "I'm going through a divorce. It's been over 20 years since I've dated," she explains. "My dear, dear friend, Kathy, she's putting a little pressure on me."

"She thinks everyone will be a freak out there," says Kathy.

"I'm looking for a man with good moral character, although tall, dark and handsome is good," says Jeanne.

"She wants to be married," says Kathy.

"I would be very sad if I never knew real love. I could die and never be happy," says Jeanne. She turns to Dr. Phil. "Please help me get over my fear of online dating and start fishing on the Net!"

"What is your biggest fear? That it's just going to be somebody creepy?" Dr. Phil asks Jeanne.

"Well, that they can misrepresent, and how do you know if they are really who they say they are?" she asks.

"That is absolutely a legitimate, genuine concern, and one I think that everybody needs to be aware of," says Dr. Phil. "But do you think that's any different if you meet somebody at the park, or at the mall, or at a restaurant, or a club, or a sporting event? Do you know anything about them either?"

"No, exactly," she says, explaining that she met a guy who turned out to be married.

"You've got to be careful wherever you meet somebody," says Dr. Phil. "I've put together some things that I think are very important to think about. Number one, I think if you're going to date somebody, you have to verify information on a potential match. So ask questions. Try to meet some of his friends. Number two, create a separate e-mail account, so you don't have to let him know your real e-mail address. Get a post office box. List your cell phone number, not your home number. Never give more than your first name. Have a privacy checker on your computer." Dr. Phil also recommends bringing along a friend, and meeting in a public place for a quick 15-minute coffee date. "If you ease into this, I don't think it matters where you meet him, whether you meet him on the Internet, at a baseball game, or at your church."

"That makes complete sense," says Jeanne. "I was just a little intimidated because to me, it almost seems like a Pandora's box. Once you give all your information " "

"You don't give all your information," he reminds her.

"Well, yeah, I guess I need to know what information to give," she says.

"You use your first name or a screen name. You get a separate e-mail account, where you're out there in cyberspace, they can't find you if you don't want to be found," says Dr. Phil. "And see, I think it's nice to be able to have somebody write things to you, if you're chatting back and forth, because you can see how they structure a sentence. If they say, 'We was partying last night,' and you say, 'We was too,' then OK, but if you're sitting there like an English teacher grading their paper, then that tells you something about them. And you can ask some questions about interests and information and things. I think it's a great pre-screening device. And then you go through the normal concerns. If we walk you through that, would you feel comfortable with it?"

"I'm willing to give it a try," says Jeanne.

"OK, we're going to hook you up then," says Dr. Phil.