Anonymous chats can be fun, but life could turn upside down if your mobile number falls into the wrong hands

It all started as a fun way to beat the blues. Pune-based BPO employee Jean signed up for a cell phone dating service to enjoy the thrills of chatting with a stranger. But the stranger, a 42-year-old in Bangalore, managed to trace her personal information, including her extension number in office, and landed in Pune. When she refused to meet him, he threatened to expose their chat records to her spouse.

The number game

An airline employee took an anonymous relationship to the next level and met up with the person. He drugged her, clicked her in a compromising position and blackmailed her. The case of Jackie, a Chennai-based businessman, is different. He was trapped by an ex-cabaret dancer, who posed as a Karnataka State Government employee, got the numbers of high net individuals, invited them for chats and made money by threatening to make the relationships public. In all the three cases, it was the mobile numbers that landed them in trouble. What is there in a mobile number? "Your life," says J. Prasanna, director and joint secretary, Cyber Society of India. "Using this number, a person can gain access to the home and office address and family details. The victims are adults leading unhappy lives. They easily fall prey to the new-found happiness these anonymous chats offer."

Casual talk

The problem begins when the casual talk on such PC-based cell phone dating services turns into a relationship. "From chatting with nick names, they move on to the next level of trust, and exchange numbers. Exchanging photographs and late night chatting follows," says Prasanna. Psychiatrist V. Ponni Muralidharan blames it on the easygoing nature of society. "Now, everything is considered cool. Only a few guilty ones approach psychiatrists for help. In most cases, it is people with low self-esteem who look to such channels for re-assurance. When they are bored with their current relationships, acknowledgement from a stranger that they are intelligent and fun to be with brings cheer. Another advantage is the anonymity factor," she says. Though mobile culture and chatting on the web is rampant among youngsters, psychopaths out there want to target adults. "Because, family people have so much to lose — house, car, children — a spouse can even apply for a divorce citing adultery," explains Prasanna. So, never give your mobile numbers to strangers. "Even if it's going to be plain fun, make sure to check the credentials of the other person. Maintain anonymity and switch over to other Instant Messenger chats if the person asks for numbers," he adds.Be it landline or mobile chats, both create problems in steady relationships, says psychiatrist D. Srinivasan. "Don't fall for it. Though anonymity gives security in `cyber affairs,' you gain nothing in the end. It is like falling in love; you tend to overlook the negative aspects. Another problem is that one of them can easily manipulate the other into an intense relationship to achieve their hidden motives. So, you end up losing your peace of mind," he says.Unconditional acceptance of the self and spending more time with family are possible ways to steer clear of such situations. "This is an impulsive behaviour of the super ego, which deals with the pleasure-oriented instincts. Such relationship problems arise when the super ego gets stronger," says Srinivasan. In any relationship, the pillars of strength are love, respect and trust. Respect for the individuality of the other person, intensity of trust and intimacy are the other factors. When there is a fine balance of all these, there is no room for boredom."Things are smooth as long as love is unconditional. When it becomes conditional, the partners tend to undervalue what they get and look for alternative channels of reassurance. Even when one pillar becomes weak, the relationship turns shaky," the psychiatrist warns.Says Prasanna: "Never take technology for granted. Like it happens in our daily lives, relationships of every kind can evolve over the technology platform too. Be wary of them." If caught in such a situation, people can e-mail for help.K. JESHI