— The first online messages “Lexie” sent to Ashley Atchison, a Florida State University freshman, seemed innocent enough. Ashley, 18, was told that she was being groomed for a possible leadership position in a sorority she had pledged, and her new Facebook friend was assigned to screen her.
“They wanted to know any secrets that might come out in the future,” Atchison told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira on Thursday. “In that moment, you are just thinking, ‘Well, if I don’t do this, in my senior year I may regret passing this opportunity up.’ ”
Atchison gobbled up the bait, replying “Yes, ma’am!” to the Facebook invitation. She added a smiley face for emphasis.
But “Lexie,” Atchison came to learn over the next few days, was not whom she claimed to be. He or she is an online predator who took advantage of Atchison’s eagerness to join the sorority and please the girls she hoped would become her sorority sisters.
Starting with the first contact on Aug. 31, Atchison had 12 online conversations with the phony sorority sister over three days, each one lasting 30 minutes to two hours.
Each message became more and more invasive. Atchison’s online pen pal wanted to know what kind of underwear she was wearing, and whether she would ball it up and put it in her mouth. The predator even claimed to have the sorority’s authority to order Atchison to leave an FSU football game early for another Facebook chat.
Atchison chalked up the bizarre requests, which she refused, to being part of the pledge ritual.
But as the hours went on and “Lexie” became more and more demanding, Atchison became alarmed. The person writing to her seemed to have an awful lot of information about her, the sorority and its secret meetings, the dorm where she lived and Greek life at FSU.
When Atchison’s mother refuted the message writer’s claim that they had spoken, Atchison decided she had heard enough.
“I put the pieces together and said, ‘Mom, this is bad news,’ ’’ Atchison told Vieira.
Atchison made a complaint to campus police the following day. She learned then that nine other FSU students associated with other sororities had been conned in the same manner.
Police had contacted Facebook, the social networking website that the messages were channeled through. But ironically, the same privacy settings designed to keep a legitimate user’s personal information secret were keeping even Facebook from helping police track down the predator tormenting the FSU students.
Fearing that her stalker knew too much about her, Atchison withdrew from classes for the semester and went home.
If police are ultimately able to determine who sent Atchison the messages, they could prosecute them under Florida’s harassment and Internet stalking statutes, according to Dan Abrams, NBC News’ chief legal analyst.
As for Atchison, whose own profile picture someone is now misrepresenting as theirs online, she will be returning to FSU in the spring with a new dorm location and a message for other young girls.
“Definitely keep your guard up and realize there are scary predators out there,” she said.