We’re all shocked.
Someone is not who he appeared to be.
(Insert sarcastic gasp.)
The Aaron Hernandez soap opera, which now includes blue bubblegum, once again reminds us that appearances can be deceiving. A person we once thought was worthy of respect now seems far from deserving any reverence.
Will these charges against Hernandez have all of us suspect those we idolize? Perhaps. What we need to take from Hernandez’s story is that we must not take anyone at face value, whether in the real world or online. When meeting people in the real world, you can glean a certain amount about them through in-person interaction. The online world is a bit more secretive. I have created a roster of tips that will ensure that you trust the right people in your online interactions with strangers.
Your Roster for Safer Online Meetings
The QB – You’re the Quarterback. You call the shots and you are in control of your online transactions. If something seems too good to be true, like you’re a Wide Receiver being totally open, remember to check the Safety (pun intended). Remember, if someone is unwilling to provide the information you need to feel safe, whether that be a real name, a real address, or a photo, then keep on moving.
The Offensive Line – You want someone to cover your blindside. When using dating sites (Match, eHarmony, Zoosk, and Plenty of Fish), P2P Sites (Airbnb, Relayrides, and Flightcar), and Commerce Platforms (Craigslist, Autotrader.com, and Angie’s List) you must make sure that they’re watching out for your best interest. Large platforms are the gatekeepers and have the ability to make the rules for what types of individuals they allow on their systems.
So, to that end, here are some good considerations when choosing platforms:
- Background Checks – Does your platform run them and in what capacity? If the person you’re communicating with online were coming to your house, wouldn’t you like to know if she has a long list of burglary offenses?
- Social Media Verifications – Is your platform actually using OAuth to connect social media accounts, which you’ll rely on for information, or are they permitting users to just drop in URL’s, which could be someone else’s?
- Photo Verification – Is there any sort of check and balance on the photo? Does it come from a semi-reliable source like LinkedIn?
- Certificates and Seals – See what other’s are saying about your platform and if it’s been vetted by anyone.
- Safety Policies - How does the platform vet its users (if at all), and what information does it allow users to share for transparency. In the NFL, you want the best watching your butt. So demand the same of your online platforms.
The Receiver - Deals get done when two parties connect, whether it’s for a date or the selling of a car. You want the other party in the transaction to be on the same page as you. For online transactions, make sure that you both feel comfortable with each other and that no red flags arise.
Sample Red Flags
- Online Dating - No picture or a picture that is obviously photoshopped should make you think twice.
- Online Dating – Is s/he too hot for you? Like your parents always said, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
- House Rental – Pay attention to questions that seem out of the ordinary – “Do you have a place off the street to “hide” my car?” should send you running for the hills.
- House Rental –Hesitate if your prospective renter makes inquiries for someone else. Do you want to be turning over your keys to someone other than the person you checked out online?
- Craigslist – Just like with dating, you should be suspicious if the deal seems way too good to be true. Extreme urgency and prices well below market value should really make you question the goods.
The Defensive Line – Online, just like in the real world, the best offense is a good defense. You need to surround yourself with a barrier to prevent the other party from getting too much of your personal info. Just like you tell the guy you met on Craigslist to meet you at a public place, you want to have some semblance of control when translating the online relationship into a real world relationship. Consider ways in which you may control the information with systems like REPP.
The Kicker – In the future, we will all be meeting increasing amounts of strangers online in ways and for reasons that we’ve never imagined. Unfortunately, what comes hand in hand with these new opportunities are new ways that unsavory individuals can take advantage of you. So, remember to always watch out for those little guys both on and off the field, with one small action, they can send you home disappointed.
While it’s very unlikely that you’re communicating with someone who’s the center of three murder investigations, it’s better to know that now than to find yourself being interviewed by CNN later. No longer can you just assume that if he’s on a dating, commerce, or networking site, he must be everything he appears. You must be vigilant to make sure that your time, trust, and safety are in the right place.