Do you 'really' know who you are talking to?

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. --
When you're young, you don't think much about online safety. At 19, I didn't have a care in the world; I just wanted to meet new people. Little did I know my care-free attitude online would change my life forever.

In January 2013, I made an account on a social media site my friends recommended. At first I just wanted to see what it was about, then one day a girl named "Taylor Reed" messaged me. She was extremely sweet and said she was new to town, so I started communicating with her and eventually began to like this girl I had never met.

We exchanged messages all the time. I tried many times to meet, but something always came up for her. After a few weeks of attempts, I gave up and started talking to her less frequently. It never crossed my mind she was not who she said she was.

One day she wrote to me saying if I didn't keep doing what she wanted, all of the private messages between us would go viral and sent to everyone I knew on Facebook. At first I was confused and scared, and then I realized the person I had been talking to was not the girl in the photos--she wasn't even a girl.

I asked "him" what he wanted from me and why he was doing this. He said it was fun; it was a game to him. I became scared for my life.

He told me he picks a random city and finds a girl to target. He builds up a trusting relationship and then turns on them without hesitation. He said I had to send him whatever he asked for, whenever he asked for it. There was no reasoning with him.

I began to ask questions, trying to figure out who this person really was, but eventually he caught on.

He revealed his name, Chris, and said he was 23 years old and living in New York. He said he was a rich business owner, but wouldn't divulge any more. The one thing he made sure I knew was that he was a hacker. He said he had access to my personal computer and Facebook account, and proved it by telling me things in personal messages I'd sent. I was terrified and did what he wanted. When I asked how long it would last, he said, "Until he got bored."

After about a week of avoiding him, I was out on a run when I noticed an expensive black SUV passing by repeatedly. The driver was staring at me through darkly tinted windows; I knew I wasn't safe.

I ran through backyards and even jumped fences to be sure I wasn't followed home. When I arrived home I had a message from Chris saying he was sorry and that he got mad I wasn't responding so he sent someone to check on me.

I was even more terrified. I was engaged to be married and about to leave for Air Force Basic Military Training. I just wanted to move past this. I pleaded for him to stop and just leave me alone. At first he laughed, but eventually, he told me he was done with me. I was so happy, but found it hard to believe.

A few months later I was in technical training, diving head-first into my new career. I hadn't thought about my cyber stalker until one day, when I received a Facebook message from someone claiming to have photos of me. I soon realized Chris was back.

This time, I sought help. I went to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland. Since we didn't know if Chris was military affiliated, they put me in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and also gave me information about what I could do.

They told me to call him out. His empty threats had carried on long enough. He was probably never going to do anything and was just a bully. I followed their advice and told him I was done playing his games and if he wanted to post the private messages, to go ahead. He got upset and threatened me, but they were empty threats; he never posted anything.

I deleted everything and started over. Since then I set up my social media accounts with the highest level of privacy settings possible and never put out any personal information. I haven't heard anything from him since; however, the fear of my cyber stalker will always be in the back of my mind.

By using common sense and being smart about your social media activity and who you allow into your life online, you can prevent this from happening and help others in your life do the same.

Not all stories end like mine. Some end much worse, but at the same time some can end much better. All cyber stalking stories can be different. In the end, we all want the same thing - for everyone to be safe online.

If you or someone you know is being stalked online you should contact your local law enforcement office. Read Safeguarding your digital footprint for more information on how to protect yourself online or visit http://www.fairchild.af.mil/units/publicaffairs/index.asp for detailed instructions on how to lock down your accounts, found under the social media security tab.