In today’s news, there is a story of a woman who had been befriended by an elementary school friend, and then was kidnapped and robbed by that friend.  As the story has been shared, he had a television that she wanted to purchase, and they agreed to meet in a parking lot.  When the fellow got into the car, the elementary school friend pulled a gun and pointed it at the head of the woman’s boyfriend.  He then ordered the couple to drive to the ATM to get money, and to her home to get more money.

I am sure this was the last thing the woman or her boyfriend expected to happen on that evening;  I am equally sure it was a frightening experience.  So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Many people believe that Facebook friends really are their friends and that they can trust the people.  There are a variety of problems with this logic.  First and foremost is the fact that unless you know the person well, and there is a photo of the person on the page, there is no guarantee that the person at the other end of the Facebook discussion really is the person you think it is.  While Facebook does provide some safeguards, anyone providing credible information can get an account.  Furthermore, if people are careless with their devices and/or accounts, accounts can be hijacked by other people, often people with nefarious goals.  That does not seem to be the situation in this story, apparently the woman knew the contact, and they had been in school together.

Second, on Facebook, most of us have “friended” people with whom we have a casual acquaintance, about whom we do not know very much.  We might be sure that the account is being used by the person we believe, but do we really know enough about the person to meet them at night in a parking lot?  This is a question, of course, that we each need to answer for ourselves.

The third problem is that the woman would meet this fellow from whom she is buying a television in a parking lot, in her car.  If someone called us from our past and offered to sell us a television, would we pick them up in a parking lot to consummate the deal?  Probably not.  We should not be any less vigilant about friends with whom we discuss things on Facebook.  We need to remember there is a virtual world, that is relatively safe, and there is the real world, where we need to be more cautious.  We cannot forget normal precautions like meeting in a neutral and semi-public location and being aware of our circumstances.

These people were 20 years old and hence the woman and her assailant had been classmates about six years ago.  One wonders if there were warnings about the assailant and his intentions that the woman should have remembered before meeting him.

On the other hand, I am reminded that I too have used Internet tools to locate friends from my elementary school, and have arranged dinners and weekend events with them, without a thought.  In my case, it has been substantially more than six years since I was in class with any of these people, and so perhaps I was more lucky than smart in planning these reunions.

I suspect we will never know the whole story behind the event in the news.  The assailant has been caught.  We can hope that justice will be done, and the woman and her boyfriend can learn from the experience.