Sunday, January 30, 2011

Victims & Abusers: Both Use Technology

By Shannon Proudfoot

Technology has moved to the front lines in the fight against domestic violence.

Advocacy organizations are using increasingly sophisticated high-tech solutions in their efforts to keep victims safe, even as they struggle to keep pace with abusers using technology to control and threaten their victims.

"Worldwide, it's an epidemic," says Alexis A. Moore, an abuse survivor and founder of the California-based victim advocacy group Survivors in Action.

"Perpetrators are changing their information and their manoeuvres. Their road map changes by the hour, where our training and education and awareness programs happen on a yearly basis, if that. Laws take years to develop."

GPS devices on vehicles or cellphones can be used to track a victim's movement without their knowledge and abusers can hack into their victim's online accounts to track e-mails or instant-messages, says Cynthia Fraser, a technology safety specialist with the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).

Advocates first started hearing about high-tech abuse a decade ago, she says, but it's becoming a bigger problem because the technology is so widely and cheaply available. Even abusers who are not tech-savvy can learn how to stalk their partner with the help of the Internet, Fraser says.
The consequences of leaving a digital trail can be deadly. Fraser recalls one case where an abused woman wrote an e-mail about her plans to leave but didn't empty her computer trash bin after deleting the message. Her abuser found the message and killed her.

Fraser works with Safety Net, a project that focuses on technology and domestic abuse, and she's conducted training in Canada with law enforcement, Crown attorneys and shelter workers. Like other advocates, she's careful about how much detail she provides on this type of abuse and efforts to counter it because she doesn't want to "educate abusers."

"Technology has just added another layer to the complexities of women's safety," says Erin Lee-Todd, executive director of Lanark County Interval House, a shelter near Ottawa. "We just have to move with the times."

In Canada, most shelter websites prominently display warnings to victims that their online activities may be monitored, and many have escape buttons that switch to an innocuous website if someone walks into the room. Telecommunications companies have donated new cellphones and airtime to victims who fear their abusers may be tracking their communication or whereabouts with their regular phone.

E-Services, an online counselling program that allows shelters to provide live chat help to clients, is currently being rolled out across Canada by Shelternet, a Toronto-based organization that provides online resources to shelters and abuse victims.

Like those of many advocacy groups, the E-Services website has detailed instructions for clearing browser histories to help victims cover their online tracks, says project manager Tammy Falovo. But the widespread availability of spyware programs that can grab regular screen shots or log every keystroke on a computer and send the information to an abuser means that's no longer enough, she says.

"What we try to do is remind people that no medium is 100 per cent safe," Falovo says.

Many organizations now advise victims to seek help only on computers located in a safe place such as a public library or workplace, and to create a safe e-mail address they only use on computers the abuser has no access to.

The goal is to educate abused women and their children about the high-tech risks without frightening them even more, says Lee-Todd. But while the methods of abuse and stalking may be changing, she says the underlying motivation remains the same.

"The issues are still about power and control, and they're still rooted in that," she says. "Technology has afforded the opportunity to do that more strategically and often in a more sophisticated way."

For Moore, even a professional background as a high-tech investigator didn't protect her when she left an abusive partner several years ago. He began a campaign of "cyberstalking" that involved cancelling her credit cards, emptying her bank account and destroying her credit rating, she says, and like most intimate partners, he knew all the personal information and passwords that allowed him to do so.

Now a cyberstalking expert and founder of the California-based victim advocacy group Survivors in Action, Moore says some abusers will open e-mail accounts and impersonate their victims to seek information or send out naked photos — real or faked — to embarrass them.

"You can't believe what some of them do," she says.*


(*EOPC can believe it... )

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Online dating is about game theory — not looks

Flawed business model behind Web site for the hot misses the point
By Helen A.S. Popkin

smiley checkers chess Pictures, Images and Photos
Since when do über hotties need a specialized online dating service? If evolutionary psychology and People magazine teach us anything, it’s this: When it comes to hooking up, the only thing the most attractive of the species need do is walk outside.

Hence the intrinsically flawed business model behind HotEnough.org, a matchmaking Web site exclusively for “fit, good-looking people.” Access to this database of desirability is granted to those ranked 8 or higher by HotEnough.org’s current members — those symmetrical few who themselves land on the high end of the Bo Derek periodic table. Only then are you allowed to pay $9.95 a month for the privilege of e-hitting on the site’s 1,000 or so members.


Do I read bitter? I assure you it’s only because I’m generally filled with black and hate. There’s no special loathing reserved for the attractive insecure, and certainly the Internet has been nothing but great to me. EBay tchatzkahs, dogs, and yes, even eligible (and handsome) bachelors, I find whatever I want in six clicks or less.

Strategy is the key to my success - honed from an embarrassing amount of years lurking on bulletin boards and social networking sites. As more people post their personals, online dating has gone from just trying to hook up to deeply layered game theory. Niche sites like HotEnough.org may seem like a tempting, time-saving filter - eliminating the risk of dating, or Heaven forbid, falling for, a genetic inferior. But like so many other things on the InterWeb, it’s an illusion.

HotEnough.org is going to fail, and not because it caters to a niche crowd. Hey, I read “The LongTail: Why the Future of Business is Selling More” by Chris Anderson (OK, I just read the Amazon review). This millennium, it’s all about serving niches. Certainly, there are plenty of successful specialized, online dating sites outside of the big catch-alls like eHarmony and Match.com, JDate, FarmersOnly.com, Gothic Match and Green Friends.

HotEnough.org is going to fail because Darwin says so. Any skin-deep beauty seeking love on the Internet is guaranteed damaged down to the bone. Yeah, yeah, they’re soooooooo busy, they “just don’t have time” to meet attractive equals offline. Guess what? Making movies is a major time suck, yet Johnny Depp sure didn’t meet Winona Rider, Kate Moss or Vanessa Paradis in cyberspace.
Non-psychotic pretty people don’t seek peer validation from exclusive dating sites.
They’re busy adopting third world orphans and designing clothing lines for H&M.

Meanwhile, for us above-average-to-ugly people, the Internet is a viable and respectable place to find love or something like it. It’s what Al Gore intended. Unlike those out-of-touch few who doubt the Internet’s ability to help you find a real world mate, I totally buy the empirical proof. Heck, I am the empirical proof. The Internet provided me with at least two decent relationships and countless ego-boosting flirtations. (Seeking peer validation is perfectly acceptable for us 7s and under.)

The Internet helped me hook up with an OK guy who we’ll call Boy Millionaire. Charming and hilarious, Boy Millionaire looked great on paper (I saw his tax return). He also came with a complete leather-bound set of emotional issues — just like I like ‘em. Alas, it was not to be. After four and a half months, I ended it via e-mail. (Don’t judge me — it’s what he preferred.) Still, it counts as successful. Our brief infatuation excised me forever from an offline icky gum-on-your-shoe relationship that I previously failed to end on my own. Is there nothing the Internet can’t do?

I found my current gentleman friend on Friendster - a broke-ass Brooklyn artist of the conceptual variety. For Art Boy, I deviated from my usual e-flirting strategy and contacted him first. There was no way of knowing if he was “hot enough” or what, because instead of a photo, Art Boy posted an illustration of himself as a cartoon. I really like cartoons. Three or four years later, we’re still together, which counts as successful, too, I guess. Of course, Art Boy came with his own beautifully engraved bound volume set of issues. But hey, that’s me. There are probably plenty of well-adjusted potential mates to be found online … if that’s what you’re into.

To be fair, finding what, or who, you want online is made easier or harder by your geographical location. Many national online dating sites feature a smorgasbord of eligible lovelies in New York City. Change your search location to say, Tampa, Fla., however, and it’s humanity at low tide.

Of course, there are plenty of online losers within the New York City tri-state area. You just have to know the signs. For example, anyone who lists “9/11” as their “most humbling experience” is a poseur. Same goes for anyone claiming “Confederacy of Dunces” as their favorite book. Fine, if that’s your favorite book. Hey, it could happen. But if you list it in your profile, you’re trying too hard to look too cool.

Whether you’re creating your online profile, or scanning through those of others, online dating is a tricky business at best. Hot or not, online dating isn’t about you. It’s about who you want to be, and who you want Imaginary You to date. Just like offline dating. Except in the real world, you can’t use Photoshop.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Australian Man Pleads Guilty to CyberHarassment & Cyberstalking

by Mark Oberhardt

A BIOTECHNOLOGY expert who couldn't deal with rejection from women bombarded four of them with abusive e-mails and texts after they spurned his advances, a court has heard.

Jason Ronald Vaughan, 35, made his second appearance in the District Court in Brisbane on charges arising out of harassing women he met and who didn't want anything to do with him.

Last year a District Court jury found Vaughan guilty of unlawfully stalking an artist who he met at a gallery where she displayed her work.

He was sentenced 2 1/2 years' probation and 240 hours' community service.

The trial heard despite the fact the woman had a boyfriend and told Vaughan she wanted nothing to do with him, he constantly phoned and sent her messages and emails from July to August 2008.

The artist gave up painting and stopped exhibiting her artwork in the gallery.

Vaughan failed in an appeal against his conviction late last year.

In the District Court today, Vaughan pleaded guilty to four counts of using a carriageway to harass, menance or cause offence between 2005 and 2007.

Commonwealth prosecutor Stuart Shearer said while Vaughan was this time charged under federal law the offences were very similar to the stalking charge from Vaughan's trail last year.

The offences involved three women - Vaughan's former girlfriend, a university student he met on a bus, and a woman he met at a nightclub in Paddington.

Mr Shearer said it involved Vaughan behaving in an aggressive and persistent manner when rejected by women.

"He has an inability to accept and deal with rejection from women . . . this conduct is almost routine to him," Mr Shearer said.

The texts and e-mails were usually juvenile and overtly sexual and phone calls usually started out calmly before Vaughan became angry, Mr Shearer added.

In a written statement of agreed facts showed Vaughan sent messages such as: "What was I ever doing with a walrus like you" or "You vile piece of filth - you will pay 4 what you've done."

Barrister Aaron Simpson, for Vaughan, said his client had a science degree and worked in the biotechnology field. He said Vaughan had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Mr Simpson said Vaughan had taken steps to address his problems by seeking medical help and assistance.

Judge Tony Rafter, SC, said in many ways he's a despicable person because his behaviour was not isolated. He said, however, after taking mitigating factors into account he would sentence Vaughan to 12 months' jail but release him immediately on a $2000 good behaviour bond for two years.

Judge Rafter also accepted a request from state prosecutors to revoke the community service order from the stalking convictions.

original article here

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Social Networking: A Bonanza for Stalkers?

"Vengeance will be mine...," declared a defiant message on MySpace.com. "I should have killed you all when I had a gun and some drugs." This violent monologue, one of several postings on the writer's site, threatened his ex-wife, who had fled the state to escape his abuse. In postings on other sites, he demanded photos of his family and warned that if he didn't get to see the kids, "it isn't going to be real good, because I'm gonna see them whether you let me or not."[1]

The increasing use of MySpace to threaten and stalk victims raises many important questions. Do social networking sites enable stalking? What recourse do victims have when these sites are used to stalk? And what tools can help block the use of these sites to stalk?

What Are Social Networking Sites?
Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are virtual communities where people with mutual interests meet on-line to share information and build relationships. Site visitors can chat, debate, network, and socialize. On many sites, members may post details about themselves-photos; educational backgrounds; favorite books, movies, and music; and relationship status. Others sites promote business, activism, networking, counseling, socializing, or many types of recreational interests. Sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, and Xanga have attracted millions of members, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

How Do They Work?
On many social networking sites, anyone with a computer and Internet access can become a member. Some sites require only an e-mail address, and many sites have no system to verify the validity of information that registrants provide. A few sites, including MySpace and Friendster, have minimum age requirements (14 and 16, respectively) although these sites have no reliable method to verify a user's age. Once a member, anyone can post personal information, images, music, or other data on their Web pages, depending on the site's features. On many sites, members select a circle of "friends" who can post messages on their profiles, add comments, or access pages not visible to other users. Unless the site allows members to control access to specific information (and members actually exercise those options), everything posted on a profile may be visible to all site visitors. Most sites require members to agree to terms of proper conduct, but enforcement of such terms is sporadic and often depends on members to report violations.[2]

Links to Stalking
The attractions of social networking-access to an ever-widening world of "friends"-can lead users to overlook the pitfalls of these sites. Young people, in particular, may tend to view such sites as "part of their own little world,"3 not a public bulletin board with millions of other visitors. They may not recognize that posting personal information may lead to contacts from sexual predators, identity theft, fraud, or stalking-or that anyone could post a bogus profile to disparage, misrepresent, harass, threaten, or embarrass them.[3]

Several recent cases suggest how stalkers and predators are beginning to use social networking sites. In the months before the Virginia Tech massacre, the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, allegedly used Facebook to locate and stalk female classmates.[4] In July 2007, authorities inLorager, Louisiana, arrested a 17-year old for stalking and cyberstalking another teenage boy. The alleged stalker's MySpace page featured a video of the accused pistol-whipping another boy posing as the victim.[5]

In 2006, a University of Kansas student received death threats from someone who found her class schedule on-line. He posted photos from the victim's MySpace account on his own site, along with insults about her appearance and her major.[6] Also last year, National Public Radio's Veronica Miller discovered "Becky," a MySpace "cyber twin" who had copied a photo of Miller from Facebook and published it-along with photos of Miller's family-on the imposter's site. Although Miller's impersonator did not threaten or stalk her (and MySpace promptly removed "Becky's" site), the incident shows the potential of such sites for stalking or harassment.[7]

Features to Watch
Several social networking site features may increase users' vulnerability to stalkers and other predators. For example, new MySpace members are asked to supply a name or nickname and information about their marital status, sexual orientation, hometown, school, religion, education, interests (e.g., music, movies, television, books, and heroes), children, or income. Although most of these questions are optional, users may automatically answer them because they are using the site to meet other people. On many sites, all these answers go "public," remaining open to anyone who uses the site. Stalkers may use such information to gain access to site members.

Many social networking sites (e.g., Stalkerati) also have search tools that can simultaneously pull personal information about the same person from a number of different sites, including MySpace, Friendster, Flickr and Google. A recently shut-down site called fbstalker.com tracked changes in the profiles of users' friends while saving copies of each page to compare to subsequently updated files.5 Other sites, such as Profilesnoop and Link View, allow visitors to trace a user's Internet Protocol (IP) address (and even physical location on Google Maps) with many social networking sites, including Facebook.[8]

Stalkers can also use social networking sites to introduce spyware into the computers of their victims. Spyware infection rates are increasing, an anti-spyware company spokesman told Business Week, in part because "people are creating multiple profiles, and the links on their sites will take you to sites that will download adware and spyware."[9] Stalkers can exploit this vulnerability on their victims' profile pages. Once downloaded, spyware can help stalkers gather information about all their victims' computer activity, including e-mails, chats, instant messages, keystrokes, passwords, and Web sites visited.

Legal Recourse
Stalkers who use social networking sites as part of a pattern of stalking may be subject to criminal charges. For example, someone who repeatedly follows and tracks a victim in her car, as well as posts a lewd photo of the victim on a social networking site, can be charged with the crime of stalking. Also in many states, cyberstalking statutes enable prosecutors to charge those who use technology to stalk and harass their victims. Other states have general stalking laws that define ‘pattern of conduct' broadly enough to cover the use of technology to stalk. Most of these laws are relatively new, however, and few cases involving social networking sites have yet been prosecuted.

Victims also have options in civil or family courts. They can seek protective orders against stalkers, who can be ordered not to contact the victim, including not using any form of electronic communications to stalk the victim. Victims may also be able to file a civil tort case against their stalker, seeking damages for the impact of stalking on their lives. Also, under certain conditions, victims can sue social networking sites for failure to remove offensive or defamatory material regarding the victim from the site.

New Laws
Lawmakers are starting to propose measures to govern the use of social networking sites. In April 2007, for example, the California legislature introduced a bill to prevent individuals from using social networking sites to incite harassment or abuse against an individual. Harassment would include posting digital images or messages on Web sites to cause fear, harassment, or harm to an individual.[10]

Prevention: The Best Defense
The best defense against social networking site stalking is to use the sites with extreme caution. Wise users carefully consider what they post (see "Think Before You Post). Last names, school names, favorite hangouts, phone numbers, and addresses make it easy for stalkers to locate victims. Photos with identifiers (like school names or locations) also increase a victim's vulnerability. Posted information is permanently public. "You can't take it back," warn experts Larry Magid and Anne Collier, about information posted on-line. "Deleted" information can be recovered, for example, from Google's cache of deleted and changed Web pages and from Internet Archive (archive.org), which offers access to deleted postings.[11]

Users can also boost security by limiting on-line "friends" to people they actually know and by activating all available privacy settings. Since June 2006, MySpace has allowed all users to keep their profiles private-open only to those designated as "friends." MySpace also offers other privacy options: to control how others may add their names to friends lists, to approve friends' comments before hosting, to hide the feature that shows when they are on-line, or to prevent e-mailing photos. To activate these features, members must change their settings and choose the privacy options they prefer. Although stalkers can find ways around these protections, members who use them are less vulnerable than those who do not.[12]

Networking Safely
The social networking revolution presents complex dilemmas. The convenience and appeal of these sites are undeniable, and stalking cases that involve social networking are still quite rare. Yet as stalkers diversify their tactics, they are likely to exploit any available technology. For stalking victims as well as the public, safe social networking will require awareness and vigilance.

As the Stalking Resource Center continues to track this issue, we welcome insights from the field about these sites, related cases, and new features to keep them safe. We will periodically report our findings at www.ncvc.org/src. For more information, please visit the SRC Web site or call 202-467-8700.

[1] As told to staff by a stalking survivor.

[2] Massachusetts Attorney General, "Consumer Advisory: AG Reilly Warns Parents about the Potential Dangers of Children Using Social Networking Sites Such and MySpace and Xanga," August 29, 2006, www.ago.state.ma.us/sp.cfm?pageid=986&id=1710 (accessed February 26, 2007).

[3] Justin Pope, "Colleges Warn about Networking Sites," the Associated Press, August 2, 2006 (accessed March 4, 2007).

[4] Adam Geller, "VA Gunman Had 2 Past Stalking Cases," Associated Press, April 18, 2007, www.newsday.com (accessed July 24, 2007).

[5] Florida Parishes Bureau, "Loranger Teen Booked in Threats to Harm Other Teen, Cyberstalking," Capital City Press, July 12, 2007.

[6] KUJH-TV News, "Facebook Used to Aid Stalkers, May 4, 2006, www.tv.ku.edu/newsd (accessed March 5, 2007).

[7] Veronica Miller, "Stalking Becky, The Girl Who Stole MySpace," National Public Radio, All Things Considered, August 6, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5622009 (accessed July 25, 2007).

[8] Andy Meyers, "On-line Stalking Nothing New," The Brandeis Hoot, September 8, 2006, www.thehoot.net (accessed March 5, 2007).

[9] Arik Hesseldahl, "Social Networking Sites a ‘Hotbed' for Spyware, Business Week, August 18, 2006, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14413906, (accessed October 12, 2007).

[10] Jaikuman Vijayan, "California Eyes Stronger Cyberstalking Laws, ComputerWorld Government, 04/25/07. www.computerworld.com (accessed July 24, 2007).

[11] Larry Magid and Elaine Collier, Myspace Unraveled: A Parent's Guide to Teen Social Networking, Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 2007, pp. 122-3.

[12] Ibid.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Recovering When Your Email is Hacked

It could happen to you. An unbelievable computer hoax that took many people by surprise. Investigators call it the 419 scam or the Nigerian scam.

Computer hackers find a way into your email accounts and send out hundreds of bogus messages saying. In this case, they say you are stranded in another country and need money.

It happened to our very own travel expert Sue McCarthy. She shared her story of getting her email and Facebook accounts straightened out.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cyberstalker Had an "Emotional Void"

Sounds exactly like Lissa Daly!

someecards Pictures, Images and Photos

(STAMFORD, CT) Fabricated doctors. Illegal medical procedures. Rerouted cell phone calls. Phony text messages.

Police say they have never dealt with a case quite like it.

For members of the Stamford Police Department's Special Victims Unit, the case began in June, when Deborah, a 39-year-old Stamford resident who did not want her last name used to protect her family, told police she suspected her friend of stalking her, an arrest affidavit states.

Deborah's friend, Jennifer Mardi, 36, was a trained emergency response technician who worked a short stint as a paramedic with Stamford Emergency Medical Services that ended in November 2007.

Police say Mardi wrapped up Deborah in a fictional world in which Mardi used e-mails and text messages to pose as a man who was a friend of both women. Mardi manufactured a medical drama involving the man, creating 14 fictional characters -- some with their own cell phones and e-mail addresses, all tended by Mardi -- to keep the story going, police said.

One of the fictional characters was a doctor in whom Deborah confided her medical problems, police said. From February 2007 to April 2008, on advice from the fictional doctor, Mardi administered fluids and drew blood from Deborah 38 times, according to police, an interview with Deborah and an arrest affidavit.

Mardi began the charade to keep in close contact with Deborah, police said.

After a six-month investigation, police arrested Mardi on Dec. 5, charging her with 38 counts of unlawful use of paramedicine, 38 counts of third-degree assault and 38 counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, all related to the medical procedures. They also charged her with practicing medicine without a license and third-degree larceny, which are felonies.
"This is not something that comes up a lot, if at all during one's career," said Sgt. Gary Perna, a superviser in the Special Victims Unit who has been a police officer for 20 years. "We deal with a lot of criminal investigations, but nothing like this."

When Deborah went to the police station to file her statement, officers told her to type up the timeline of events. It took Deborah two to three weeks to complete a 10-page statement detailing the 20-month relationship, said Officer Heather Franc, an investigator.

It was a confusing case that challenged police to identify criminal actions, Franc said.

Mardi replaced their mutual friend's cell phone number with her own in Deborah's cell phone, then began sending text messages to Deborah as if she, Mardi, were the friend, police said.

Mardi convinced Deborah their friend was seriously ill with a severe calcium deficiency and couldn't speak, so text messages and e-mails were the only means of communication, police said.

"She had an emotional void that needed to be filled," Franc said of Mardi.

Police said Mardi introduced Deborah to a team of doctors, nurses, therapists and priests who were treating their "sick" friend. Not one was a real person. They all contacted Deborah through texts or e-mails; Deborah never spoke to any of them, police said.

"You kind of lose sight of what was real and what wasn't," Deborah said. "She consumed my entire days and nights with all this -- at work, text messages and e-mails, and on the computer to all hours of the night thinking someone is sick."

Mardi did not return a message left with someone who answered her cell phone. It is unknown whether she has hired a lawyer.

Deborah told police her friendship with Mardi began in 2005 at the pool outside her parents' condominium complex. The friendship quickly turned all-consuming, Deborah told police.

Deborah asked for more space and time apart from Mardi. But Mardi would find ways to be near Deborah's family by coaching her children's softball and basketball teams.

According to the arrest affidavit, the story line began after a Halloween party in October 2006, which their friend did not attend because he felt sick. Mardi told Deborah she had driven the friend to the emergency room and that he was violently ill.

Mardi became the liaison between Deborah and the man, who later told police he knew nothing of the Halloween party and was never speechless and bedridden in an out-of-state hospital.

Deborah began texting her friend for medical updates, but the messages went to Mardi, who used her experience as a paramedic and information from the Internet to pose as medical professionals.

Deborah became so concerned with the well-being of her friend that she began cooking food for him and bought him more than $1,000 worth of gifts, including clothes, blankets, video games, pornography and an mp3 player, the affidavit states.

The "sick" friend sent flowers to Deborah's office to show his appreciation, the affidavit states.

Deborah told police she befriended a doctor who was treating her "sick" friend. She told the fictional "Dr. Shorty" about her medical ailments and he diagnosed her by e-mail, saying she was dehydrated and needed fluids.

"Dr. Shorty" arranged to have Mardi deliver Deborah's medical records to him and had Mardi draw blood from Deborah, administer intravenous drips and inject vitamins, the affidavit states.
"I know she's a medic and I know it's her job," Deborah said of Mardi, who also was a licensed paramedic in New York. "I didn't feel like I was in danger at any point. It was basically a way to be with me and care for me. It was odd. It was another way for her to be close."

The ruse appears to have unraveled in June, when Deborah jumped into Mardi's car after the weather turned bad during her child's softball game. Sitting in the car, Deborah sent a text message to their "sick" friend's cell phone and heard a buzzing sound. She looked around the car and found a phone in a door compartment. The text message she had just sent appeared on the phone she found, the arrest affidavit states. She sent another text message, and it appeared on the phone again.

Deborah told police that she suspected Mardi of stalking her. Mardi later told police she paid someone to program her cell phone to intercept text messages, the affidavit states. Eventually Mardi told police she created the fictional world using new cell phones and e-mail accounts.

Deborah told police in August that Mardi's boyfriend had revealed the schemes to her, the affidavit states.

Deborah said she does not sympathize with her former friend -- she is only relieved that Mardi can no longer preoccupy her family with lies.

Mardi is slated to appear Dec. 22 in state Superior Court in Stamford. She was released on a $10,000 bond.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Duped on Muslim Matchmaking Site

Every year, according to the New York Times, some 20 million Americans seek love or relationships through matchmaking websites.

Many succeed. You can tailor a search to particular interests, and short-circuit fruitless dates.

But there's also that unknown element about the person one meets in a vacuum, without a community to vouch for him or her. The Dec. 18 Times story told of the dangers of ending up with a sexual predator, a convicted felon or someone who's already married.

Sherri Abdelmawgoud, now of Urbandale, is learning about online matchmaking the hard way. "
The person I thought he was never existed," she said this week of her husband.

Sherri Welch met Ahmed Abdelmawgoud through a dating site two years ago, when she was 28 and he was 26, as she recalls. She was living in Las Vegas, where he said he was visiting a friend, having been in America a few months with plans to get his master's in mechanical engineering.

Her Egyptian Prince Charming was handsome, playful, attentive and won the hearts of all her
relatives. She liked the old-fashioned image he projected — a devout Muslim virgin who didn't
believe in holding hands before marriage. Three months later they wed in a Muslim ceremony in
Texas where Sherri followed her parents to live.

She converted to Islam, and began wearing a head scarf, as some Muslim women do. Ahmed got hired at a computer repair shop and enrolled in a university. "I was blinded by love," she says, "and he was a very charismatic guy. "

Sherri says they were working on starting a family when, back in Texas a month ago, her eyes fell
upon his open e-mails. There were love notes to and from another woman, and something that
looked like a marriage certificate.

It was in Arabic, but had pictures of him and a woman, and fingerprints. When Sherri confronted Ahmed, he shrugged off the other woman as an obsessed ex-girlfriend. Unconvinced, Sherri e-
mailed her.

What she got in return, she says, made her feel "like I died that day." It was a studio photo of a glamorous woman in what looks like a Western bridal gown, stretched out on Sherri's husband's

Based on subsequent e-mails and instant messages, Sherri says the woman, identified as Dalia, lives in Egypt and told her she's been married to Ahmed five years. Sherri says Ahmed would neither confirm nor deny the marriage when she questioned him, instead packing up all his belongings and saying he was flying to Egypt to be with his dying father. He quit work, missed final exams and drained their bank account, Sherri says.

In a phone interview Tuesday from Texas, Ahmed denied Sherri's allegation that he's married to Dalia, telling me, "I am having problems with my wife ... I will prove to my wife it's not true." Reached in Egypt later, Dalia denied to me that she and Ahmed are married. But Sherri says she found a Facebook page of Dalia's — since removed — naming Ahmed as her husband, with pictures.

The ironies are hard to miss. While Ahmed wanted his American wife to stay home and care for the house, the Egyptian woman is a self-described professional. In the picture she sent Sherri, there was no Muslim head covering, either.

In retrospect, Sherri sees things she might have questioned more. She never met any of Ahmed's friends. She never spoke to his parents in Egypt; he told her they disapproved because she wasn't Egyptian. In June, he left for 40 days, claiming he needed to take his father to Spain for cancer surgery. He rarely contacted Sherri in that period. Dalia told her she was with him in Spain, and that his father never had cancer.

Sherri showed me e-mails sent from Dalia this month. In one, Dalia said Ahmed is with her all the time and denies everything Sherri said. Ahmed called Sherri from Egypt this month and told her he never loved her. "I think he loved me in some way," Sherri says, but wonders. "I don't understand how a person can look at you every day and (act) so sincere. I could never do that to somebody, even if I hated them."

Asked why she thinks Ahmed married her, Sherri shrugs. To get a visa? He did, though it could be revoked if the government finds it was fraudulently obtained. To have someone cook and clean for him? Did he just get lonely? One thing Sherri insists is that his Muslim faith not be blamed.

Sherri turns 30 today, but the big celebration her husband had promised won't take place. She has no income, job or car, and can't afford a divorce lawyer or name change. She fears the Ahmed she didn't know, cries a lot, and wonders how she can trust again.

New York and New Jersey require matchmaker sites to post safety tips. But Sherri already knew to take precautions like meeting in public places.

Her experience is a painful reminder that even with criminal background checks, which all such sites should be required to perform, trust cannot be given unconditionally. The cliche taught to journalists is true for everyone in the Internet age: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.