Be cautious about unknown “friends” met on the Internet

Published 9:35 pm Saturday, July 8, 2006

Almost anything is found on the Internet, even other people.

Especially popular among high school and college students, free Web sites like and allow users of all ages to create personal pages known as profiles. Often, however, profilers — friends aren’t the only ones viewing the pages.

“Young people using these Web sites to socialize with their friends do not realize that the information is not private,” explains Patricia Abraham of Mississippi State University. “Their profiles are available for others to see.”

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A technology education specialist, Abraham says these sites can make it easy for criminal predators to learn about the private lives of potential victims. And, while not as physically threatening, profile postings can result in other negative repercussions when employers and school administrators stumble onto the sites.

“Students are being dismissed from school, thrown off of athletic teams, passed over for jobs, and even arrested for some of their postings,” Abraham said.

To avoid unwanted attention and safely enjoy profile sites, she offers the following tips:

— When adding names to the “friends” list, remember that chat partners may not always be who they say they are;

— Avoid postings that might embarrass you with a parent, teacher or boss;

— Posting addresses, telephone numbers, personal photographs, and messages about upcoming plans can be used to track your location; and

— Never forget: most forums and profiles are completely public.

Abraham urges parents to keep constantly informed about their children’s Internet activities. Though many Web sites require parental permission for users under a certain age, entry can easily be gained by age misrepresentation, she emphasizes.

Abraham suggests that parents may wish to consider running their children’s names through a Web search engine to see what information is listed. Sites such as also can help users develop a code of responsible conduct.