Over 40 million Americans, including me, use online dating services or dating apps in hopes of meeting “the one.” Consequently, the perception that online dating is safe has slipped into our collective consciousness when, in fact, it sometimes isn’t.
Since dating apps don’t conduct thorough background checks, online dating has paved the way for a whole new world of financial scams, emotional abuse, and even physical danger. And if you aren’t savvy, it’s easy to be duped. In fact, a recent study found that up to 80 percent of users misrepresent themselves on their online profiles. While most people are guilty of simply embellishing the truth, some go as far as to create fake profiles looking to exploit vulnerable women in a practice also known as “catfishing.”
But for those of us who find that the internet is the only way to meet potential dates, don’t fret. There are red flags and tangible, common-sense precautions that will allow you to explore the world of online dating freely… and have the fun you so rightfully deserve. Here are tips for how to stay safe when online dating.
With so many sites to choose from, it’s a good idea to stick to those with proven reputations. Ask friends, read reviews, and verify the site’s security features. Some sites even do background checks for sexual assault, identity theft, and violent crime. But even with these precautions, things can slip through the cracks. And let’s face it, the security measures available use information given by the potential member. Ergo, it’s a good idea to do your own background checking.
There are actual sites designed specifically for the online dater. Just search “online dating background checks,” and you will find a smorgasbord of sites willing to deliver you a full report on the person you’re interested in. But for those who don’t want to spend the money, you can find out just about anything online on your own. Screengrab and do a Google search of his photos. (Once, I discovered my dream man was, in fact, a postcard photo from the Philippines.) Google his name. Check his LinkedIn. Look at his social media profiles. Chances are he will show up somewhere. And if he doesn’t, chances are he isn’t who he says he is and not worth the risk.
You don’t want a total stranger to have access to information that could reveal your location or whereabouts. Turn off location settings. Leave your full name, birth date, and place of work off your dating profile. Just use your first name or a nickname. Don’t link your profile to your Instagram account, which can give him a window into your private life. Don’t use the same photos that you use on social media. It only takes one quick reverse image search on Google for some guy on Tinder to find your other social media profiles and get access to personal information. And it should go without saying that you should never give out your address or work address to someone you don’t know.
He doesn’t have a bio (a “blurb”) or list any personal information; he’s only got one out-of-focus picture; his pictures don’t seem to match each other; or he is just too good to be true (“OMG Tina, I just met a sixty-year-old millionaire astrophysicist that looks like Ryan Reynolds!”), chances are, he is. Chances are he’s a catfish, a scammer, or a “bot” (computer scam).
Beyond your cyber sleuthing, get to know as much about your potential date as possible before you meet in person. Talk about your experiences online, your dating pasts, what you’re looking for in a partner, hobbies, family, travel, etc. But, at first, avoid sharing too much personal information.
Start with a virtual date. It’s the easiest way to see if the person you are communicating with is, in fact, who he says he is. There’s no better way to get a sense of someone than a face-to-face conversation. He should have no problem with doing this. And if he does, that’s a red flag to be mindful of.
Because he’s not a Nigerian prince, and he does not have an amazing financial opportunity for you.
Make sure at least one friend is aware of your plan. Tell your friend your online date’s name and number (if you have it), as well as where you’re meeting. Then sync up location sharing on your phone and come up with a check-in system. For example, thirty minutes into your date, head to the restroom and text your safety friend. Or do the old phone call trick: Have your safety friend call you thirty minutes in. If it’s a bad date, then answer the phone, feign an emergency, and leave.
When meeting for a date with someone you met online, drive yourself there and don’t get into his car. Make sure to meet in a public place, and stay there. Keep your purse and phone with you at all times.
Don’t accept a drink he ordered for you before you arrived or while you were in the restroom. (No, women aren’t only drugged on college campuses.)
Keeping your wits about you when on a date with a stranger should go without saying – especially when you have to drive home at the end of the evening.
Never go home with a stranger on a first date, or bring him back to your house!
Often, victims of online predators say they felt something was off but didn’t do anything about it. So, if you are feeling the least bit unsafe, uncomfortable or suspicious—if you are getting that all-important feeling in your gut—excuse yourself to use the restroom, then head out the back door.
If his texts become creepy or his unwanted DMs start sneaking into your social media accounts; if he won’t take no for an answer; if you feel uncomfortable in ANY way, for ANY reason, delete, block, and report him.
Let the relationship grow slowly. Don’t introduce him to your family until you know he’s a keeper. And keep listening to your gut!
Now go, online date, be safe, and have fun!
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