Millions of people have tried Internet dating services to meet new friends and possibly find a lifelong partner. It’s a great way to get acquainted with people you would never have met otherwise. When done carefully, online dating may even be safer than some ways of meeting people in the “real” world.
Still, online dating requires you to be cautious and take steps to protect yourself. Read on to help reduce your risk when you turn to the Internet to find a relationship. A little prevention can come between you and heartache or even physical danger when it comes to online dating.
Eleven safety tips for online dating
Nowhere does the advice “trust your instincts” hold more true than when you go to the Internet to find a date. The following advice may help inform your instincts.
- Choose a reputable online dating service.
Look for a service that keeps your information confidential, offers features that match your needs, and has a sizable database of members. To check it out:
- Read the privacy statement carefully. Make sure the service will never share your personal information with anyone (unless you give explicit permission).
- Popularity is a good indicator that a dating service is keeping members happy, but read user reviews and compare services. Get the opinion of friends or check the mainstream press for coverage.
- Make a conscious choice about the image you project on the dating site.
Make sure that your screen name, descriptions, and photos reflect what you want to say about yourself. Many people post provocative account names and pictures and then are surprised by undesirable responses.
- Stay incognito for awhile.
This ensures that if you run into someone who’s offensive, creepy, or less than truthful, you remain safe.
- Create your profile with care. Don’t reveal anything that would compromise your safety and allow someone to find you, such as where you live or work.
- To maintain your anonymity, get acquainted using the service’s messaging system. As your trust grows, switch to standard e-mail and then phone conversations before you meet in person.
- Never include your full name, phone number or location information (home or work) in your profile, or during early communications with others.
- Avoid those rose-colored glasses. Be realistic.
- Read the profiles of others with skepticism. As you correspond or talk on the phone, ask questions, seek direct answers, and note any inconsistencies.
- Trust your instincts. If someone is too assertive, moving too fast for you, or too personal-or you simply feel uncomfortable-don’t reply. No explanation is required.
- Look for danger signs such as a display of anger, an attempt to control you, disrespectful comments, or any physically threatening or other unwelcome behavior.
- Check to see if a potential date has a reputation among other daters on the service.
It isn’t foolproof, but could provide some insight. If the reputation isn’t rock solid, move on.
- Set up a few safe first dates.
Ultimately, you don’t really know who your match is, so:
- Keep it short. Arrange to meet your match in a public place such as a restaurant or coffee shop at a busy time of day. Avoid secluded places such as parks or isolating activities like hikes. Never meet at your place or theirs.
- Come with your own transportation, and let a friend know where you’ll be going. If you have a cell phone, keep it on and charged.
- If the meeting doesn’t feel right or if it’s clear that the person wasn’t truthful in any way at all, leave at once and report any dishonesty to the dating service.
- You have the right to walk away at any time.
You don’t have to explain, apologize, or reply to a follow-up e-mail. Most dating sites have a feature that allows you to block the person from contacting you if you want communication to stop.
- Don’t be a fool in love.
Even when you feel you have met the “right” person for you, tread carefully and keep your defenses in place. Always make careful choices regarding any information you reveal or the level of intimacy you engage in. While this person might truly be the right fit for you, remember that building trust and credibility is also a key predatory tool.
- Error on the side of caution.
When in doubt, slow down. People rarely regret being extra careful when making important decisions, but we all know someone who acted too quickly and regretted it. With more time, you’ll be likely to spot any inconsistencies and realize if things don’t quite add up. Anyone worth dating will give you the time and space you need to feel comfortable about your choices.
- Report fakes, frauds, and other predators.
The best online dating sites dedicate resources to quality control and respond quickly to reports of abuse, but no site can catch everything. Use the systems provided to report members who don’t behave appropriately, and if your concerns aren’t dealt with satisfactorily, switch sites.
- If a date asks you for a loan or any financial information, report it.
No matter how sad the “hard luck” story, it is virtually always a scam. If con artists didn’t tell convincing stories, they would never make money. Scam artists are pros at manipulation of your pocket book, your information, and sadly, sometimes your heart.