The Internet is rife with forums that deal with various paranormal subjects, including the UFO phenomenon. While the vast majority of people who frequent these chat groups and message boards are good, sincere people, there is danger lurking there as well - especially when it's impossible to know who most of these people really are, because they usually use pseudonyms. It is especially dangerous for children who might wander by, and become involved with someone with bad intentions who uses their interest in the paranormal as a way of getting close to them. Ernst Zundel used to do this - he used young people's interest in UFOs as a way of luring them into his web of neo-Nazi hate (note: much of the bunk spread about Nazi UFO bases at the South Pole was propagated by Zundel). There have been other, even more egregious examples, however. One such case is that of Richard Romero.
In 1995, the then 36-year-old Romero "met" a 12-year-old boy in a "chat room" on the Internet devoted to UFOs and extraterrestrials. Romero posed first as a 15-year- old boy, then as his 20-year-old brother. He exchanged e-mails and phone calls with the 12 year-old throughout 1995 and into 1996. He said his father had been killed by government agents because he knew too much about UFOs. He asked the boy to join him in a mission to uncover secrets about aliens and UFOs. During the summer of 1995 Romero and the boy frequently exchanged letters and e-mails. The boy told Romero he was seeing a psychiatrist for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), that he was adopted, and that his parents were too restrictive and did not understand him. Romero sympathized with the boy's situation and told him that he, too, was adopted and having trouble with his parents. By the end of the summer the boy considered Romero to be his best friend.
Eventually, in March of 1996, Romero convinced the boy to run away with him. On March 14, 1996, Romero flew to Chicago and checked into the Ramada Inn under the name Ricardo Romero. The next morning the boy left for school but went instead to the Ramada Inn to meet Romero. After they met, Romero called a taxi to take them to the bus station. He told the boy not to talk to the taxi driver. At the bus station he purchased two one-way tickets to Florida with cash. He told the boy not to talk to anyone or draw attention to himself while they waited for the bus. Romero told the boy that it would be best for him to live in Florida and not return to his parents.
The two boarded a bus in Chicago bound for St. Petersburg. Some quick investigative work by the local police and the FBI foiled the trip, as Romero and the boy were intercepted at the Greyhound bus station in Louisville, Kentucky. Romero was eventually charged with four crimes: kidnaping and transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity for inveigling the boy to leave his home and travel to Kentucky; traveling in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in a sexual act with a juvenile based on his trip from Florida to Illinois; and obstructing justice because of subsequent efforts to get people in Florida to destroy evidence of his interest in child pornography.
Romero was eventually convicted on the obstruction of justice, kidnapping and transportation charges. He was sentenced to 327 months in prison, a decision upheld on appeal.
Is Romero's case unique? Alas, no - there are others. Because the UFO subject tends to attract people who have a propensity to... suspend disbelief, it will always attract people who will use that fact to further their own nefarious purposes, whether it's neo-Nazi hate-mongers like Ernst Zundel, or sexual predators like Richard Romero. The anonymity that the Internet provides creates the perfect place for these people to lay their traps, which is why parents should carefully monitor their children's usage of a computer, and their participation in UFO and paranormal related forums and groups. There is also a responsibility on forum owners and moderators to keep an eye on message traffic, and look for patterns or behaviour that might be suspicious.
This is not to say that people shouldn't participate - even children - because most people on-line are good people. But one should always proceed with caution. Sadly, where anonymous internet users are concerned, the old X-Files mantra of "trust no one" is a good baseline piece of advice.