A few years ago I discovered this cool little concept, Postcrossing. It allows you to create a profile, send a postcard to a randomly chosen user anywhere on the planet, then receive one in return from a different random user. It was pretty exciting when cards from faraway places with their exotic stamps and friendly messages started coming through my letterbox. One day it might be an Indian temple or a Russian Orthodox church, the next day... a water pumping station in Finland's industrial heartland. Yes, let's just say, some countries were better than others. But it felt great to get lovely messages from people who received my cards, and great when I could send a nice thanks after registering a card. I even set up a blog to go alongside my profile and it became one of the most successful Postcrossing blogs, which added to the good feelings. I swapped cards with a lovely Italian girl who has become a great friend.
But there is a side to Postcrossing that I do not like at all. When I first told family and friends about my new hobby the reaction would always be: "OMG! Stalkers!" True, it did seem a bit creepy to me, to have my profile, full name and address sent to just about anyone who cared to sign up to the website. But I dismissed it with the thought that tons of other people are doing it so it must be ok. And for the most part, it is. I sent and received about 100 cards in total and most seemed like really nice people without a particular interest in me. But a handful I suspected of having somewhat sinister intent. I think the fact that I am a young female who used quite a nice photo of myself in my profile played a role. That's just the way the internet is, unfortunately. Being from a "rich" country probably added to it, too.
Anyway, I found that some people would message me in a totally innocuous way and ask if I would like a postcard from ___. All too trusting and eager to be kind I would agree, we would swap postcards and everything would seem fine. Then it turned into, Can I have your email address? You're so gorgeous, can we keep in touch? Can I add you on Facebook? When I said I wasn't on FB, I would receive multiple invites saying ____ had added me on there and Google+. One invite had my mum's name on it which really spooked me. They had obviously Googled me and seen my whole family's names. I ended up having to tell them a ridiculous set of lies so they would get the hint. Thank God they did and I never heard from them again (besides the odd FB invite that still turns up from time to time... argh.)
Leading a stressful life anyway (and yes, I am a type A personality LOL), this all just added to it and really pissed me off. Sometimes I would wake in the night and lie there in a sweat thinking, "Holy *$%@, this is a strange 30-year-old man living in an war-torn hellhole, and he has my home address. What the hell would happen if he sees me as a way out and turns up one day?" I didn't feel I could just be rude, tell him to go and do one, and delete and block him. The last thing I wanted to do was make it turn nasty when he knew where I lived.
A couple of other men also kept messaging me to the point of creepiness. They have clearly confused Postcrossing for Badoo. They are nothing but predators looking to groom. It's so sad and annoying because it turns an innocent pastime into something risky and worrisome.
One more horror story - PG13, promise. At the end of last year, quite a while after I had done my last ever PXing, I trawled through the email account linked to the blog I had written, and noticed an email from a woman or girl asking if I would like to swap postcards as she had heard about me on someone else's blog. I thought, well, she seems nice, it all seems ok, at least she won't try to chat me up or pull anything weird. Maybe the Xmas spirit had put me in a frivilous mood, and I do seem to remember being half-delirious with flu at the time. So I agreed. We swapped cards and everything was ok, then agreed to keep sending cards as sort of pen pals, like I do with my Italian friend. It has all been fine, except that every time she gets my card, she is compelled to email me about it in long missives and clearly expects me to do the same. I don't have the time or the patience and it certainly isn't what I agreed to. Every time I read their emails I hear the music from the opening montage of Catfish. That's what riles me about the Postcrossing mentality, some of them expect more and more from you. And she started to creep me out. In fact, I'm not sure any more if it really is a dude or a gal. Or why they're calling me darling. Why I have absolutely zero info on them but am always asked in detail about myself. And why, this morning, I had an email from them saying, "I looked up your house on Google Earth, that's a nice place in the middle of nowhere all surrounded by fields, must be nice and quiet, huh?" I don't know if they are trying to inveigle me in a phishing scam, or they are planning a burgulary or what , but I highly do not like it. Maybe it is being said in total naivety; I cannot expect someone from ______ to understand the ways of my world and that it's sinister to talk about looking at someone's house on Google Earth. But now I'm stressing about how to reply because I don't want to cause an upset when they know the intimate details of my living arrangements. In short, I wish I had never been so stupid as to make contact with a random person on the internet. It is just not safe.
When you make your Postcrossing profile you are also encouraged to post your date of birth. So, that's full name and address, DoB... Anyone for a spot of identity theft? It's sheer madness to put such details about on the internet. Die hard Postcrossers will find that totally paranoid but that's the way I feel.
The site's only concession to legalities is some ass-covering line about the safety of giving your address, saying, "You should...understand that this website is free and will not be held responsible for anything that may occur as a result of its use or misuse...if you run into problems as a result of using the service, we might not be able to help you." Thanks. Still, it is much more generous with its details of how to make a Paypal bank transfer donation to the
The other, less sensational, aspect of wanting to give up was the money factor. Stamp prices seem to have rocketed in all parts of the world in recent times, and where I live it is now almost $2 to send a postcard abroad. I must have already spent $150 dollars sending cards, not inc. buying the cards themselves, and that, to me, is a lot of money. A waste? Maybe. It was nice when the return cards arrived but that's kind of offset by the whole stalker thing TBH. When I look on the PXing website and see people who have sent - and presumably spent - literally thousands, I think, Sorry, but your life is sad. What can you really be getting out of it? Thousands of dollars can buy you something amazing and you've spent it on this. /sadface
I'm not hating on Ana or Paulo, I know they are nice people and made the project with the best intentions. It's not their fault how some people choose to use and abuse Postcrossing. Some people seem addicted rather than doing it for any kind of pleasure and to me that is just not right. But I'm sure most people are really happy with the way it goes for them and that I am one of a small neurotic handful who didn't get on so well.
I am never going to send postcards to random people again. I will save them for my loved ones. In fact it has put me off talking to people online altogether. I think I prefer the real world. If a friend told me they were going to start Postcrossing I would say, just don't. The good bits aren't worth the bad bits.
Since giving up Postcrossing, I have taken up other hobbies such as embroidery. I don't have to feel threatened or scared. Why do I need that kind of stress? I don't. And it's not worth it for some postcards.
***In the couple of days since I wrote this I have had a few more emails from the person I mentioned above who looked at my house on Google. They have now become very rude and mean which is extremely weird because we have exchanged three postcards and I thought I had treated them very kindly. They seem to have a lot of anger for me but I don't know why. It's not for me to understand the subliminal motives of crazy people on the internet. I'm not trying to ruin Postcrossing for anyone, this is my opinion and personal experience. If you like it, great. It's a free world.