Computer Technology in Romantic Fiction:
What does computer technology have to do with romance novels?
"You mean besides using them to write up your story?"
"Better than a typewriter," one heckler yelled out. Laughter goes up across the room.
"Yes," I answer.
Someone shouted, "You can use computers to find romance."
"Ah, good. Now you are thinking. How many of you have done this?"
A few hands rise above the crowd.
"Oh, come on. There has to be more than a handful."
More arms creep up and lift higher than the heads.
"Okay. Let's keep with that theme, Social Networking with a Sociopath ."
Imagine if you will, that you have a heroine who just wants to find romance. After dating the losers of the century, she decides there has to be a better way. Unable and unwilling to try shooting for Mr. Right based on her own judgments, she turns to an online dating service. After all, they guarantee a 'happily ever after' or your money back.
After signing up for the service, our heroine, let's call her Jane, sits at home, boots up her computer, and logs onto the dating website. Once there, she reviews the recommended matches. Finally, she picks a couple out and contacts them. Two days later, Jane has her first date.
The couple of dates with the prospective Mr. Right are okay, but when they kiss, her toes don't curl so she decides to pass on Mr. Wrong. Unfortunately, Mr. Wrong refuses to give up on her. It turns out that the guy Jane picked out was not only Mr. Wrong, but he is also a stalker. Because Jane let him pick her up for one of their dates, the "nutso" now knows where she lives and chooses to follow her everywhere she goes, even when she is on other dates.
"What do you think so far?"
"The guy is a real whack job!"
"Yeah, but it happens," someone else shouted.
"True. Now, let's take this a step further."
Our nutso, AKA Bob, has had a couple of dates with Jane so he obviously knows something about her likes and dislikes. Unless, of course, he is one of those guys who only talks about himself.
Low chuckles rumble through the room.
Let's say that he knows Jane has been searching Craigslist.com and eBay.com to buy a Denon dual tape deck. This is something she wants desperately and searches for on a regular basis. Now, Bob has an idea. Bob puts an ad on both Craigslist and eBay for the exact tape deck he knows Jane wants and of course, Jane sees it and replies.
Jane is so excited she finally located what she hunted for that she does not waste time on a bid, she just offers the full amount. The seller accepts her money and Jane cannot wait to go pick it up. She has goose bumps just thinking about her new electronic gadget. After arranging a time to retrieve her purchase, she uses the directions emailed to her and drives to the address.
Imagine Jane's face, the look of utter shock and the lump in her throat when Bob opens the door. Not only does the surprise of seeing Bob upset her, there is no tape deck. Jane does an about face and bolts out of there. That, my dear friends is fraud .
"Are you seeing where I am going here? So far, our antagonist has used computer technology to defraud and to stalk our protagonist."
"Do people really do that?"
"Duh!" One man hollered from the back of the room.
Waving my hands, I announce, "We're not done yet. What else can this lone antagonist do with the use of computer technology to wreak havoc on our lovely protagonist?"
My turn to laugh. "Very good. Bob has already been identified as a stalker so why not cyber-stalk."
"What exactly does that mean?" Several voices yelled at once.
Cyber-stalking occurs when someone uses the Internet or other electronic means to stalk another person. Tools like email, Instant Messanger, and websites are great for harassing and threatening someone. The social networking site can be a breeding ground for this kind of antisocial behavior. Sites like MySpace , Facebook , and Twitter allow others to follow you and leave comments for you and others to see. You can try to block them, but there are ways around that as simple as creating another account and starting over.
"Besides, the scary, it makes you shiver at the kind of creepiness factor of in cyber-stalking. There is way more that Bob, our villain, can do."
Big grin on my face. "I'm so glad you asked. Have you ever heard of Phishing?"
"You mean like fishing for trout?"
Roar of laughter erupts. I clear my throat. "Not quite."
Phishing is typically carried out through an email or website meant to portray an actual company, but is not. For example, Phishing is used in those fake emails you receive from your bank stating, "We need you to confirm your account." Jane, our unsuspecting victim, clicks the link in the message and is redirected to a fake website. She does as instructed and fills in her personal information, including her credit card or bank account numbers. Bob, who was a stalker and did small time fraud has now committed another act of fraud as well as stolen financial information that he could use and probably did, to get himself another credit card with her account number and / or buy something. Knowing this sicko, he purchased a negligee and sent it to Jane as a gift.
"Remember the movie, 'The Net'?"
The crowd shrieks, "Yeah."
That movie was based on the use of software to steal another person's identity. Essentially, Bob has everything he needs from Jane to steal her identity thanks to his Phishing. But, he could have gotten the information another way. Let's say Bob is a real computer hacker.
"This guy keeps getting worse and worse!"
"No doubt, but to continue."
Bob is a software guru and knows how to hack systems. He can, based on the little information he has already received unwittingly from Jane, can use a sniffer to get her passwords. With passwords, Bob now has the ability to break into other websites that Jane uses or her email or anything else she believes is secure. He could break into her email and send it elsewhere or shut it down. He could log into her bank and transfer all her funds.
Holding up an index finger, I take a drink of water, and start again.
Bob is even worse than you imagined. You see, Bob wanted to date Jane to get inside information on his business competitor. Through those passwords he managed to acquire from Jane's computer, Bob commits industrial espionage . He can get information about the company finances, their research and development, marketing, even personnel records. The really terrible part of this is that he used Jane's login credentials so when the intrusion and theft is discovered, it will appear as if Jane did it or was involved.
"Oh, yes. But I'm not finished."
Bob is a career criminal. With access to the network at Jane's company, Bob has installed software that gives him access to funds in their financial accounts. He can siphon off and move the money to various accounts of his own, concealing the source of his new found wealth. He is laundering money in the digital age.
Someone like Bob could be in it for himself, or he could be in it with a partner. Bob's partner in crime is a terrorist .
Loud gasps explode throughout the space of a packed room.
Bob is laundering money for his unfriendly terrorist who needs him to hack into and bring down government organization's websites. Cyber-terrorism . An example of this occurred last year when someone hacked into the Republic of Georgia's website during the Georgia-Ossetia war. This kind of terrorism is small potatoes compared to the underlying reason a terrorist would pay Bob untraceable money. Usually, there are illegal weapons, drugs, people transportation, and any number of other unlawful activities.
"What does all that have to do with Jane?" A lone woman called out from her seat.
"Ah. It all started with Jane."
Jane was the conduit to make all of these bad things occur. If it were not for Jane's lack of computer security and knowledge, Bob would never have been able to dupe her as badly as he did. In addition, remember, to the naked, untrained eye, Jane will appear to be the criminal.
Our antagonist did a terrific job of antagonizing our kind-hearted protagonist who was only looking for romance.