Margaret, 38, a divorcee from Hereford was shown how to use the Internet by her teenage daughter. She met Alan, 44, a chemist from New York in a gardening chat room.
"He asked me a question about Albertine roses," laughed Margaret. "We chatted quite often after that, mainly about our gardens at first. Then Alan sent some photos of his garden with him in it, and I straight away thought how handsome he was.
I sent photos back, half thinking that I wouldn't hear from him again, but the e-mails kept on coming and one day after we'd been corresponding for about nine months Alan got the chance to come to England on business. We met up in London last November and we got on really well together. I'm going to see him in New York in two months time, so who knows what will come of it?"
Lizzie Bell was only sixteen when she started chatting to Mark on the Internet and found that they didn't live far apart from each other in North London. They even knew some of the same people!
After chatting every day for about a month Mark suggested that they meet in a cafe one Saturday morning.
decided to both carry a copy of a certain computer magazine," said
Mark, "but I knew she was the one the minute she walked in the door."
Over a year later Lizzie and Mark are still together and planning an engagement on Lizzie's eighteenth birthday.
Things don't always work out quite so well though as Rebecca 42, from Leeds found out.
Rebecca joined an Internet dating service. When she first met William he seemed like her ideal man, smart, handsome and sophisticated. At first they had a good time together with trips to the theatre and the races, even a weekend in Paris, until Rebecca began to suspect his motives.
William was increasingly "just a little short of cash" until a business
deal went through. Eventually Rebecca realized that the deal he was
waiting for was marrying her for her not inconsiderable money.
There certainly are precautions you must take to keep yourself safe if you intend to meet people in this way.
CHAT ROOM CHECKLIST
Don't reveal too much about yourself. Use an alias or a nickname, this is quite common practice, and don't reveal too much about your physical whereabouts either, especially if you live alone or in an isolated place. There are con artists who target the lonely and will think their ship has come in if you give out this sort of information.
Be aware that if you put your photograph on the Internet anyone can right click on their mouse and put that picture anywhere that they like in any context. Also consider when looking at photos of others that many people put on photographs that are years out of date when they were slimmer, younger, had hair etc.
Don't even think about giving out your telephone number under any circumstances. Call the other person from a public telephone, or dial 141 before you call them and they can't get your number by dialling 1471. (UK)
Use your common sense. It's easy in the heat of the moment to give away details about yourself that you would never usually reveal to a stranger.
Take your time and don't be rushed into meeting, especially if you have any doubts at all about someone. On the other hand if you get to know someone and they are strangely coy about meeting up perhaps they are already married, or ten years older or younger than they have told you. Beware of men or women who "love" you within days, they almost definitely have an ulterior motive.
When you do decide to meet, take the same precautions over your personal safety that you would with any stranger. Meet in a public place, tell someone where you are going and with whom, keep your house and car keys with you at all times, be careful about your drink being spiked and take a taxi home so that your date doesn't know your home address.
Love and friendship have blossomed on the Internet for many people who might otherwise never have met, for whom the computer cursor became Cupid's arrow, just be careful and look after yourself.
© Colleen Moulding 1999
About the author: Colleen Moulding is a freelance writer from England where she has had many features on parenting, childcare, travel, the Internet and many other subjects published in national magazines and newspapers. She has also published a variety of women's and children's fiction. Her work frequently appears at many sites on the Internet and at her own site for women and children All That Women Want.com a magazine, web guide and resource for women everywhere. Subscribe to the FREE monthly e-zine by sending a blank e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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