Straight Talk Advice

Online strangers troll for vulnerable teens

Nov 10, 2015

Adolescents using online dating sites in increasing numbers

Dear Straight Talk: I have a bad feeling about this guy my friend is talking to online. He says he’s 19, but who knows? They’ve been Skyping and plan to meet over Christmas break (he lives several hours away). My friend isn't herself anymore. She’s 17 and quite independent from her parents who don’t know about this. Please help me convince her this is dangerous. —M., California

Karlee 18, Bentleyville, Pennsylvania Ask me a question

You can’t always trust people you know. My roommate texts this guy from Texas. They've never even talked by phone and he’s flying to see her! Tell her parents. There are warnings about this for a reason.

Elle 19, Boca Raton, Florida Ask me a question

Guys mostly want hookups at 19, not long-term commitments. And if he’s older and lying, that’s even scarier. This guy will not last, but the physical or emotional scars could. Tell her she's worth more than the pics she might be sending. Trust your instincts, she’s not clear-headed right now. Tell her parents, a teacher or counselor. Online dating and hookups are becoming common. Any preteen with a smart phone can create a Tinder profile in minutes. Lots of kids enter chat rooms only to have their childhoods ripped away by X-rated material.

Charlee 19, Petaluma, California Ask me a question

My close friend of 12 years was murdered by her online partner. Messing around on a dating site, she was hooked by a girl, who (lying), turned out to be 10 years older. My friend was secretive at first, but they started texting, met in person, and soon became a couple. I never met her, but her parents and other friends did. Seven months later, their decomposed bodies were found in a hotel room. Forensics concluded that this woman injected my friend with pentobarbital then poisoned herself hours later. It’s been over a year. I’ve finally stopped crying every day but when I do, my heart physically aches. The world lost the most caring, loving, funny, amazing person.

Maddie 17, Cotati, California Ask me a question

I’ve actually met my boyfriend, 18, on a chat site. He lives across the country. We’ve been together four months and are very much in love. We text daily, have met each other’s parents and friends over Skype, and are planning on meeting in person soon — with my parents. Meeting on chat sites and apps is becoming common and is fine used with caution.

Brandon 23, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

With video chat, meeting online isn’t nearly as dangerous anymore. My best man at my wedding I met on RuneScape, an online game, 15 years ago. Eventually, we started Skyping, then finally met in person. My wife's bridesmaid was a girl from Montana who Skyped with her all the time. Not everyone online is out to get you. That said, safety is paramount. Meet in public places several times, accompanied by a parent or big-brother type. Investigate social media pages for problems (abnormally low friend count, few tags, few friends’ comments, few photos — or no pages at all).

Lisa 22, New York, New York Ask me a question

Online dating is the new big (dumb) thing for young people. There are so many real people around you in high school and college!

Morgan 19, Petaluma, California Ask me a question

I warned my incredible best friend to be careful — and in many ways she was. Her friends and parents met her online partner in person several times. I rationalized this woman’s lies (that she was actually 26 — to my friend’s 17), her dislike of us (her friends), and her control, because I wanted my friend happy. They spent so much time together. My friend left prom early, missed project graduation and travelled all summer with this woman. Then their bodies turned up in a motel room — a murder-suicide. How little we knew this woman. The loss is indescribable. The pressure to use dating sites and chat rooms is increasing. Parents tend to be shielded, thus there are too few warnings and too much freedom online for adolescents.

Samantha 23, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

That she’s changing and keeping this secret is a huge red flag. You can’t tell how old someone is, even with Skype. She’s likely being manipulated. Tell her parents. It doesn't matter if she hates you.

Dear M.: I hope we convinced you to tell her parents and keep them informed if this relationship persists. Online romance belongs nowhere in adolescence. Its popularity in this age group (13-24) is alarming. I constantly advocate for oversight of teen online activity, but nobody paints a picture of issues and solutions quite like the panel. May this column help your friend and inspire “family dates” everywhere discussing new rules of the road.

Editor's Note: Today's column is dedicated to Morgan and Charlee's loving, caring friend, the late Michelle Williams of Petaluma, California. May she rest in peace. —Lauren

Straight Talk is a nonprofit that tackles youth’s toughest issues with youth’s wisest advice.

We have three more columns after this. Click here, to keep the archives open by making a tax-deductible donation today.

  1. By L.H., age 16, from Carmichael, CA on 11/11/2015

    I’m really worried that my sister may be getting into a situation similar to what Charlee describes.  She suddenly was constantly on her iPad in our room and appeared to be communicating with someone and was also very secretive about it.  When I tried to ask her about it she angrily told me to “mind my own business.”  She was so obsessed that similar to what others described in a recent column about video games, I would even see her on her iPad when she was “using the facility” when we shared the bathroom in the morning. 

    I know it’s wrong to snoop, but curiosity got the better of me and on a rare time that she left her iPad unattended when she was out of the room, I checked things out and found numerous sexually explicit emails and IM’s.  The most shocking thing is that they were with another female!  Even though I live in the same room with her and thought we were close, I had no idea that she was gay, but from what I saw she clearly is.  I can accept her being gay, and as many others have written I am still just as comfortable with her when it comes to undressing and nudity in front of each other in our room.  Our parents are very anti-gay, so I can understand why she is keeping this a secret.  However, the sexually explicit messages concern me. 

    The worst part is that she is planning to secretly meet with this person during Christmas vacation.  She has a friend who moved to the Bay Area recently and she’s going to use the pretext that she is going to visit her friend.  This woman appears to be older as it sounds like she lives alone in her own apartment. 

    I really don’t know what I should do.  First of all, I would have to admit that I snooped.  Secondly, I would have to reveal to our parents that my sister is gay.  I’m afraid that this would make my sister hate me forever.  But if something happened to her like happened to Charlee’s friend because I remained silent, I don’t know if I ever could forgive myself and Charlee’s comment shows the real danger in a situation such as this.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By A.K., age 16, from Anaheim, California on 11/11/2015

      You must find a way to stop her!  My sister started “sexting” with a guy who found her Facebook page and asked to be friends with her because she was so cute.  He claimed to be her age (17) and sent a picture supposedly of him that looked that age.  She worked out a plan to hook up with him by telling our parents that she was spending the weekend at a friend’s house.  This was nothing unusual and she had always been trustworthy, so they didn’t question it.  She confided in me what she was doing, but against my better judgment I decided to let it be her business as we have a pact that anything we confide in each other about in our room stays just between us.  She was expecting to have sex.  However, the guy turned out to be at least 10 years older than he claimed to be and the picture had been a phony.  He also demanded that she do all kinds of perverted things like anal sex and oral sex without a condom because he wanted to “come” in her mouth.  When she refused, he beat her up.  He was smart enough not to hit her in the face and only caused bruises where you can see them when she’s undressed.  When she undressed and I saw her naked after she came back, I was shocked at the horrible bruises on her body.  She was really traumatized by this and learned her lesson and will never do this again.  However, I wish I had done something to stop her.

      If I had it to do over again, I would tell her that she must cancel her plan to hook up with him or I would tell our parents.  That is what I recommend that you do.  That should be enough to stop her as she would know that your parents would stop her anyway.  This way, you wouldn’t have to reveal that she’s gay to your parents and I certainly understand why you don’t want to do that, but if she insists on going forward despite your warning, then it is on her.  She probably will be mad at you for snooping on her iPad, but that’s better than what is at risk of happening.  I also don’t think that the fact that she is gay is the issue.  As my sister’s situation as well as the situation described by M. show, these things happen to both gays and straights as there are predators of all sexual orientations out there.

      I will also miss Straight Talk as it is one of the few mainstream columns and sites where issues like this can be discussed upfront with no censorship. 


      Reply to this comment

      1. By M.L., age 17, from Westminster, California on 11/14/2015

        My sister was also both sexually and physically assaulted by someone she connected with on an on-line site who turned out to be much older than he claimed.  She was too humiliated to report him, so I’m afraid he’s still preying on others.  She was also afraid she’d be grounded for life if our mom found out since she had lied about what she was doing in order to meet up with him.  I’m really torn about whether to tell our mom because I think my sister’s right that she’d be grounded for life.  The bruises from the physical abuse are still there but like others have written, you can only see them when she’s undressed and I see them since we share a room and see each other nude every day, but our mom rarely sees us this way and actually avoids coming into our room when we’re undressed.  I’ve thought of telling our mom and using the “code phrase” idea that I read about in Straight Talk, but my sister would still get in huge trouble and I think she would be able to figure out that I was behind it, so I’m really not sure what to do, but I feel that I’m partly responsible that this creep is still probably still doing the same to others.


        Reply to this comment

        1. By Marilyn, age 42, from Santa Rosa, California on 11/15/2015

          M.L.‘s comment raises an important issue that no one else has addressed.  Parents must let their teenagers know that they can report abuse such as this to them without fear of reprisal or “grounding for life.”  I wish that I had done so with my daughter.  My 15 year old daughter told me in confidence that her 17 year old sister had bruises on her body that she received when she was physically and sexually abused by someone she met online but that the bruises could only be seen when she was undressed.  As with others, the girls share a room and the bathroom and routinely see each other nude, but I rarely see them undressed.  I thought about using the code phrase idea, but decided to just be upfront and inform my daughter what her sister had told me and that her sister had done the right thing and that there had better be no reprisal.  I didn’t see any need for complete nudity, so I required her to undress down to her bra and thong underwear and was shocked by the signs of abuse on her body.  She broke down and confessed that she had met some online who claimed to be her age but was really much older (are you seeing a pattern here?), but was afraid to tell me about the abuse because she had lied about where she was going. 

          We reported this to law enforcement, but her abuser had disappeared without a trace.  The email address he had used had been cancelled and the cell phone number he had used to talk and text her turned out to be a disposable phone no longer in operation.  She had met him at a cheap sleazy motel that rents rooms for cash without requiring any identification and of course, he had used a phony name.  He knew exactly what he was doing and I fear that he is still preying on others.

          I feel terrible that my daughter was afraid to tell me what had happened for fear of getting in trouble.  I now have told both of them that in the future they must tell me about anything like this that happens and they will not be in trouble.  I think this is important for all parents of teenagers.


          Reply to this comment

          1. By N.R., age 16, from Petaluma, CA on 11/15/2015

            I totally agree and wish our mom saw things this way, but she doesn’t.  In our case it didn’t involve online dating sites, but the issue is really the same.  I saw bad bruises on my sister’s body when she was naked in our room.  I didn’t even ask her what happened because I knew that her no good older drug using boyfriend had done it, and our mom had already forbidden her from seeing him any more.  I felt I had to tell our mom in confidence.  However, she didn’t even wait 2 seconds after I told her and stormed into our room and made my sister strip naked so that she could see.  First my sister used the excuse that she “fell down,” but it was an obvious lie and when our mom didn’t buy it, she admitted that her boyfriend did it and that she had continued seeing him against her orders.  Now she’s grounded indefinitely, maybe not for life, but certainly long term. 

            Even though I did it out of love and concern, my sister now hates me.  Mom has forbidden her from retaliating against me, but it is impossible to enforce since we share a small room (and even a double bed), and she can find many, many ways to make my life miserable.  Maybe some day she will realize that I did the right thing, but if I had it to do over again I would keep my mouth shut and just let her suffer the consequences.


            Reply to this comment

    2. By LAUREN, from on 11/11/2015

      L.H.—I am so glad that A.K. wrote in with the story of her sister (A.K. thank you for sharing and I am so sorry for what happened and hope she is or will get some counseling around it).

      I agree with A.K. that one way to go about it is to tell your sister that you WILL tell your parents if she doesn’t stop with all this. Before you do this, though, which may make her go underground and lie as if she HAS stopped communicating, I recommend that you snoop again and get the woman’s email address (or her physical address of her apartment if she has given it to your sister already).

      It’s not wrong to snoop when you think someone may be in trouble. We’ve done several columns on this over the years and all the panelists agree with this. You had many warning signs of something being up and you did the right thing.

      After you have warned her that you will tell, if your sister continues to act secretive, you will have to bravely assume that she is still in contact, and follow through and tell your parents. I have a feeling it will come to this. These older people who troll for teens tend to be very sick people and know how to “hook” kids.

      Another thing you could do (once you’ve got her email or address) is write the woman and tell her that if she continues being in contact with your sister, you will call the police. This may make her drop your sister.

      Your sister is in danger. Let us know what you end up doing.—Love, Lauren

      Reply to this comment

  2. By Betsy, age 18, from Lodi, CA on 11/13/2015

    This doesn’t only happen to teenagers.  Our mom was having trouble finding a new man after our dad left her for someone else, so she decided to try online dating sites.  Before we knew it, this guy who didn’t even have a job was living with us and sponging off our mom.  My sister and I could see from the start that he was a real creep, but for some reason our mom thought he was just the greatest.  He claimed to have financial problems that were supposedly all the fault of his ex so our mom gave him a lot of money, even though as a single parent she had little to spare.  But he demanded even more and when she finally wouldn’t give him any more, he beat her up.  She told him he had to leave since it was her house and he refused, so she had to go to court and get a restraining order that prohibited him from coming near our house.  Then after he was gone we found that he had put a hidden camera in our room and even in the bathroom so we’re sure that he was watching and/or taping us when we were undressing and naked in our room and even when we were using the bathroom (how sick!). 

    He’s gone now but everyone, not just teenagers need to be wary of meeting anyone online like this.


    Reply to this comment

    1. By Ida, age 17, from Toledo, Ohio on 11/14/2015

      It’s not only adult women who have to watch out for this. Even adult men can be victimized by people they meet through on-line dating sites.  Our mom died of breast cancer 4 years ago and after a few years our dad was ready to move on and meet someone else, and my brother, sister and I were fine with this.  He wasn’t having much success, so he decided to try an on-line dating site.  He met this woman who was 20 years younger and became totally enthralled with her.  We love our dad, but he’s overweight and not the most attractive person in the world and we had a hard time believing that an attractive woman 20 years younger, not even that much older than my sister and I, could be seriously interested in him for legitimate reasons and we were suspicious from the start.  However, he was so flattered that he was blind to the idea that she could have any ulterior motive. 

      She didn’t live with us full-time, but spent nearly every weekend at our house.  She acted in ways that were totally inappropriate.  She would walk around in just her thong.  It was not that big of a deal for my sister and me since we’re girls and it wasn’t that much different than seeing each other this way in our room.  However, we felt it was totally inappropriate to do this in front of our brother who was 13.  Unlike some sisters I’ve read about in Straight Talk, we would never let our brother see us this way and always keep our door closed when we’re undressed which is the way it should be for everyone in my opinion.  She seemed to get a kick out of exposing herself to our brother, but it didn’t seem to phase our dad.

      To make a long story short, she bilked our dad out of a huge amount of money which he had gladly given her since he truly thought they were in love and were going to get married.  Then she disappeared and would no longer communicate with him.  To say the least, he was devastated.  It has been nearly a year and he still has not gotten over this.  Therefore, everyone needs to be wary of someone met on-line.  I’m not saying that everyone who uses on-line dating sites are predators as many people who use them probably are legitimate and just want to meet someone, but there are also many predators out there who use this as a means of connecting.


      Reply to this comment

  3. By Kim Williams, age 58, from PETALUMA, CA. United States on 11/25/2015

    I am the mother of Michelle Williams.  She was a straight A student, extremely careful with her money, and the most responsible person you could meet.  Her love of books, writing, and her cherished friends and family members was first and foremost. 

    Upon meeting her online friend, I had no idea she was 26 yrs old.  She appeared to be 18 or 19.  Very dark, as if she carried a black cloud over her head.  I have always connected with all of Michelle’s friends, but this person would not look me in the eyes.  Michelle said she had childhood issues and that Michelle had compassion for her.  I am not sure what more I could have done.  I was very firm that I did not approve of her seeing this person. 

    This person’s facebook page was very dark and allusive.  Few friends and comments.  That would have been a clue, but am not sure I would have automatically thought this person was a threat to anyone. 

    Of course I wish I had gone to the extreme to keep my daughter from seeing her.  My daughter changed a great deal in the last 5 months she was with her.  Michelle’s posters, her beloved stuffed toy animals, and pictures of her friends were all taken down from her room.  I wanted to stay as close to Michelle as I could and did not want to drive her away, where she would not have a safe haven at home.  I was wrong.  I should have fought for her.  Fought from a tender spot in my heart and enlisted the help of professionals.  It would have been a tough battle, but perhaps she would be here with me now.

    Reply to this comment

  4. By Melinda Allen, age 58, from New Haven, Indiana on 11/25/2015

    My heart breaks for you, Kim, and you did everything you could to keep your Michelle safe. There are evils in this world that hide in many disguises. Even those of us with our eyes wide open, miss them. The memory of your Michelle is in everyone’s hearts, and she will be forever by your side. You are making a difference to help keep others safe by sharing your story.

    Reply to this comment

  5. By Scarlet, age 28, from USA on 06/14/2018

    My friend was also in love with someone at 17, they met in a chat room. At this age, it’s hard to stop a girl from meeting the guy, they are dreaming about real love and beautiful love story like movie. The only thing we can do is told her tell that guy come here to meet her. If we told parents, she might hate you to death. I think she believes in you.
    idol net worth

    Reply to this comment

Comment Form

Straight Talk Advice readers are known for their frank and constructive posts that lead to insightful conversations that help many people! Please keep these guidelines in mind when posting:

  • Be constructive: Needlessly cruel or obscene comments will probably be removed. Be conscious of this so your point can be heard.
  • Be relevant: Spam or senseless character attacks irrelevant to the discussion will also probably be removed.

Happy posting!

Straight Talk Advice Recommends