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Are seniors the new chatroom victims?

DAVID KENTON REID. Has been in custody since last October.

According to Toronto police, children are not the only prey for on-line predators; gay seniors are also at risk.

In the case of Harley Walker, a gay Cabbagetown man who disappeared last fall, police suspect that Internet criminality cost him his life.

“Particularly vulnerable are elder gay men who go on-line and give away more information than they intended, sometimes without even realizing it,” says Det Pauline Gray, who is investigating the Walker case.

While there is the stereotype that seniors, who did not grow up with computer technology, are less addicted to the Internet than younger users, there is still a substantial number of older on-line users.

“Too many gay seniors seem to let their guard down on the ‘net to strangers,” says Gray. “People say things on-line that they would never dream of saying elsewhere.”

Gray says that on gay-oriented sites, not everybody is gay or has sex and romance as their main objective.

Det Const Warren Bulmer, a computer whiz with the Toronto Police Service, says on-line users should not post their real names, addresses or other identifying information and should avoid giving it in chat sessions.

“Always remember that anything posted on-line is public and never private,” says Bulmer.

Try to have a substantial on-line or telephone conversation before meeting in person. If you’re asked about your job, your money or whether you live alone, be especially wary. When meeting someone in person try to meet at a neutral, public location to evaluate the person. Never have the on-line prospect come directly to your home, police suggest.

Ironically, many hookup site users complain that fellow users lie about their age and appearance. That should remind them that getting sex is not the only reason people lie. If someone is raising doubts in your mind about whether they are who they say they are, they should also be raising doubts about whether they want what they say they want.

“Up to 50 percent of participants are not who they say they are but are role-playing,” says Bulmer. “You never know for real who you are talking to.”

It might even be a cop on-line posing as your potential date.

“From an investigatory point of view the Internet is a goldmine with lots of recent photos and personal information like addresses readily available to the investigating cop,” says Bulmer.

Says Gray: “Going on-line is not a trip to Disneyland for the evening, as there are often criminals out there looking for easy money and vulnerable victims to ensnare.”