Friday, April 04, 2008

The Dark Side of Internet Forums and UFOs

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.

Paul Kimball


Atrueoriginall said...

I don't find that it's that prevalent whatsoever in UFO forums. I was the Global Moderator at the UFO Casebook for almost three years with over 7,000 members when I left to do my own forum now. During that time, I only experienced one incident reported, which was some guy who was big on bondage and would PM our female members. He was banned immediately but that was it. No other incidents. If members weren’t posting about UFOs and aliens, they weren’t posting at all. I think those types and worse tend to dwell in younger forums anyway and not on specific topic forums.

There is a adolescent forum called Gaia that is notorious for it but as far as alien and UFO forums go, I do not believe it's a problem because the subjects aren't the kind that would strike up a 'where do you live' kind of conversation rather than, 'why are aliens and UFOs an interest to you'? Let's put it this way, they already know that the larger ratio in an alien/UFO forum will be primarily be men so it's not their cup of tea. As for paranormal, I wouldn't have much of a clue except to say that once again paranormal forums tend to cater to an older crowd as well.

Paul Kimball said...

I didn't say it was prevalent, but it does exist. The Zundel stuff was notorious, and the Romero case should serve as a cautionary tale.
The point is that you may never know about it - look at ATS: thousands of members, most using anonymous handles. One can never be entirely sure who one is dealing with, particularly where children are concerned.
The old UFO Planet forum had an 18 year old age limit - I always thought that was a pretty good idea.

Joseph Capp said...

Dear Paul,

I agree, but as part of a overall warning, not because it is prevalent on those type of web sights. I warn my grandson basically "My Space" and similar places where teens and young children go to chat. I also stress cetain behaviors by the pretators to whatch out for which should give him warning signs. The Rule: never meet anyone anywhere before you bounce it off of your parents because, not doing that could get you hurt or even killed.
Right now what I see escalating in UFO land is the rip off of a great many UFO "believers and experiencers" by fundraising and donations; asking to give because they have "the inside answers"
Hynek mentioned to Vallee they could easily raise a million dollars if they lied and said they had the answers.
Well someone was listening! I've talked to many of those same people and they have had actually experiences and are trying to find a good meaning from it.
Joe Capp
UFO Media Matters
Non-Commercial Blog

Atrueoriginall said...

Of course it's up to moderation to keep an eye on such things. I can always tell when we had a young one based on the lingo, poor spelling, etc. They were removed pretty much immediately. I don't allow anyone younger than 13 and if they even lie about their age, I pick it up pretty quick.

Honestly, I do not like to see young adolescence in UFO and alien forums to begin with. They're just to darned impressionable and swallow everything whole. There should be at least an 18-year-old age limit.

ATS will always be the exception to the rule due to the fact that they have a multi-topic board, which caters to other subjects then UFOs and aliens.

Atrueoriginall said...

Joe said, "Right now what I see escalating in UFO land is the rip off of a great many UFO believers and experiencers by fund raising and donations; asking to give because they have "the inside answers"

Ewwwww, ick pooh. Who's doing that?

Doc Conjure said...


A molester is obviously going to choose subjects that their victims would be attracted to, and the subject of UFOs is a popular subject matter with the young who still maintain that 'down with authority' mentality.

The focus should be on the molester and not the subject or avenue the molester uses to access potential victims.

On a similiar note, I am reminded of the ephedra ban here in the states. It pisses me off that ephedra became a scapegoat. It makes no sense to ban a previously over-the-counter substance because some people took overdoses and died as a result. (And the amount of overdoses was ridiculous, a teen girl takes approximately 30 pills and decides to play soccer and dies and a teen boy does the same thing but goes play football and dies...) It's tragic people died but I guarentee you 'they' won't ban Tylenol even though I read that somewhere between 30-40 people die each year from an overdose of the drug. The problem isn't the drug, it's the improper use of the drug.

Likewise, there's nothing wrong with the subject material of UFOs, it' the improper usage by the molester that's the problem.

I am reminded of the African Proverb as told by Wade Davis, 'Everything is poison. Nothing is poison.'

-Jason Gammon

Paul Kimball said...

It should be abvious that I didn't suggest that the subject matter of UFOs is the problem, per se - merely that it is worth remembering that the subject matter is likely to draw a greater proportion of gullible people, including young people, which makes it fertile grounds for people with bad intentions.
An analogy - there are fish everywhere in the ocean... but some places have more than others. Where do you think the fishermen spend their time?

Unknown said...

well said Paul.. yes in the USA there is a show called "to catch a predator"... and it is a good one... a sting to catch pedophiles basially and it is amazing the types of people it catches.. .doctors lawyers, and all from top to bottom.
love your blog..

Paul Kimball said...

Thanks Joe!

Jeremy Vaeni said...

I know I joke around a lot but this ain't one of 'em.... I somehow ended up on a Yahoo sleep paralysis message board maybe a year ago or so. Someone claiming to be a 12-year-old girl from Italy asked the board for help with abductions she thought she was having. I responded. She emailed me the scenario wanting to know if I thought it was a recurring dream or something more. The more she wrote the seedier it got and I was thinking, 'Uh oh.'

It wasn't attractive by any stretch but it was sexual in content. Juuuust in case she was a real person I told her I'd ask around and see if any female abductees I know have been through the same situation. Nada.

The next time we chatted via instant messenger, she "accidentally" tried to slip me a nude photo of (well either her or some other 12-year-old girl. But most definitely child porn.) Thankfully it comes up as a thumbnail before I choose to download or delete. I hit NO THANKS and she said something like, "Oops, I didn't mean to send that." I contacted the police who gave me to the FBI. I gave them her info and broke all contact as they instructed.

A few weeks later there was a huge news story about a kiddie porn ring that got busted. One of the main men was from Italy. I don't know if it's a coincidence or not--but either way, good on the authorities!

I don't know if there's a lesson here or not. Maybe just as a reminder that such things aren't always straightforward and there are many ways to rope someone into such a horrible crime.

Anonymous said...

I was that boy. I searched for this tonight after wanting to for years. I just happened to be in a UFO room because it was something that interested me.

I was young, stupid and the internet was fairly new. I hated my life at home and wanted something else. I didn't exactly know what I was getting into, but I knew something was different.

The most damage this did to me was waiting to testify for the second time, they had left a kind of binder with all kinds of conversations printed out. I read most of them while waiting. No one ever told me.