Saturday, July 7, 2012

It will never happen to me...

So we all hear about Internet safety. We get warned in school, by our parents, through the media. And we all think it will never happen to us. Or that those who become victims by the creepers on the web are somehow at fault for being so stupid as to publicly display their personal information. That's way we all think right? I mean, I'm guilty of it. "Well it's no wonder that girl got murdered, she met up with some guy on the internet. Doesn't she realize how many people get killed that way!"

I always thought like that. 

Until I suddenly became a victim. 

You know how you have those nightmares where someone is following you or trying to get to you? I had one the other night. It was so real that my thrashing to get away from the guy actually woke me up. There is nothing worse than a realistic dream like that. 

Until that realistic dream suddenly hits a chord of reality. 

Friday morning at 4:30 my phone rang with a number I didn't recognize. Having no idea who would be calling me in the middle of the night I answered my phone in a half asleep stupor. 
"Yeah. Who is this?"
"This is Mike."
"Mike who?"
"You don't know me?"
"No. Mike who?"
(laughs) "We talked..."
"No. We didn't. Who are you? How did you get my number?"
(laughs) "I found you on Facebook." 

In an instant I was wide awake, my heart was racing, and chills were flying through my body. Fear greater beyond comprehension gripped every fiber of my body. ...No. This only happens in movies.

Or so I liked to believe. 

The conversation progressed about how he found me, wanted to come meet me, and how he wanted sex from me. I mentioned having a fiancĂ© hoping in my naivety that he would suddenly change his mind. That, however, seemed to only make him more aggressive. 

I felt like I couldn't talk. I felt paralyzed. Thank God, Ray happened to be staying at my house that evening. I handed the phone to him as the reality of what was happening took my breath away. 

The next few minutes seemed like hours as Ray tried to convince the guy to leave me alone, combating his threats with consequences of if he came near me. Ray snapped into action as he quickly hung up and dialed the Carbondale police station. Meanwhile, the creeper calls back without leaving a voicemail.

The next few hours flashed by like minutes. The officer arriving, asking us questions, and realizing that no, this is not phone harassment by some ex, or some guy, or someone I know like the police originally thought. Then the phone rings again. Placing the phone on speaker, I answer. 
"What do you want from me?"

At this point, the officer took the phone and informed him that this is no longer a game. Mike, on the other hand, didn't seem to care what the policeman has to say. He refused to give any information. The officer hung up. He then proceeded to tell me to have his number blocked, not to worry, etc. Then Mike called back.

The officer answered. 
Mike's response? "Excuse me. I didn't call to talk to you. Put Stephanie back on the phone." 

Me. Why me? What did I do? I made no effort to ever contact someone I didn't know online. I set my entire page to friends only. I have a picture of me and my fiancĂ© as my display picture. I don't have revealing pictures. I don't have drunken pictures. I have nothing, nothing on my page eluding to the idea that I am someone who is ok with this. Why out of every person on the internet did this guy find and pick me? 

More discussion with the officer happened, and at 6:30 he left. It was over. It was done. I'd have his number blocked. It was over. The police were going to take care of it. 

Ray, furious and protective, took the day off and went to work with me at camp. We pulled in about 9:30 and boom. My phone rings again. This time, I am more determined than ever to figure out why me. I am sure he has no reason, but I just hoped that I could say something that would lead him to give me an answer. Instead, Mike became extremely aggressive and explicit. Which led me to hang up. 

Minutes later he called again. 

"Hanging up on me wasn't nice..."
"Stephanie. Don't you understand. I wandered the internet. I found you. This is how it happens. ....I'm just obsessed with you." 

Those words. "Obsessed with you." I still hear them. It's only been a day, but I still hear them. They still ring through my ears. They still twist their way down my spine. They still grip ever fiber of me with fear. What if he's serious? What if he isn't just a creeper who is far away, who found my number, and will stop calling me? What if he's more? What if he knows me? What if he found his way onto my page? What if he knows where I live? What if he knows where I work? Who knows what he could know about me? 

Obsessed with me. 

I instantly called the police station back, and got a terrific dispatcher who didn't seem to care about anything I was going through. Awesome. So thankful for the help. 

Mike called back 4 more times without leaving voicemail. 

Then, nothing. No more calls. Just to be safe, I had his number blocked that afternoon, but he didn't try for those few hours in between.

I went to the police station when I got back in town, and found out his phone was still turned on and was located near Chicago. Not the greatest news, because the police didn't know anything more than the town in which it was located, but at least he isn't in Carbondale. 

I know it's not over. I know I have a lot more to handle with the police. And I know he could still easily contact me again. (Which if he does, will hopefully give the police enough reason to actually do something about it...) But they seem to believe he's just a creeper. A prowler. Looking for a quick fix on some female prey, and once he has to put forth any more effort will move on. 

But what if he's not. 

I'm not telling this story to be dramatic about what happened to me this week. I'm telling it, because I never thought this would happen to me. Because I thought I was safe, and that this only happened to people who purposefully put themselves out there for this to happen. This guy could very well be what the police described. He could just move on, calling female after female. But he could not be just that. He could be more. He could be following me. He could be stalking me. He could be that guy you see on TV who becomes obsessed and does come after me. 

It is that possibility, and that conclusion which brings me to my point. I thought I was safe. I had my page set to friends only. My page. My pictures, my school, my work, my details, all private. ...Except my phone number. 

I have my number on there so people from camp and school can get a hold of me. I often end up calling someone from class over some project, and I got their number on Facebook. Having my number on there wasn't my problem. Instead, it was my ignorance of Facebook's privacy policy that was the issue. 

On your page, you have several privacy settings. Just because your default setting is friends only, doesn't mean your contact information is. Instead, you have to manually set your phone number and email to friends only instead of public. This is a change from what it used to be, and it was a change of which I had no idea. 

So please, for your sake, just take two minutes and check your settings. Make sure you don't make the same mistake I did. Because, believe me, things like this don't just happen on TV. 

-Stephanie Lynn 


  1. So sorry Steph. I will be praying for you and will pass on the info so others can be aware too!

  2. Thank you for posting this because nothing hits home faster than when it happens to you or a close friend. By posting your story you may save someone close to you a lot of grief. Or a life. I hope all of your friends listen to your advice & check their settings. Be safe....and thanks to Ray for being there. Love you!

  3. Very scary.

    It's still very easy to bypass the friends setting. Even if I am not one of your friends, I can click on one of your friends profile, copy the Facebook ID number code from their URL and insert it into the new URL when I visit your page and it unlocks everything as though I was one of your Facebook friends. Most people have no idea how insecure their "supposed" privacy settings are. Plus, most people have enough info on their Facebook page that it is not hard to figure out where they work, live or go to school.

    Hopefully, you will not hear from the guy again and I am glad it worked out all right.