Online dating sites have been a popular haunt for scammers looking to take advantage of singles looking for love online. This can be in the form of asking for gifts or money, or convincing unsuspecting users to send them their personal details. This is what’s commonly referred to as “romance scams,” which were estimated to have cost consumers more than $230 million in 2016.
There are also the safety issues involved in meeting someone you first encountered online. You’ll want to take a series of basic precautionary steps to keep yourself safe, but there’s no reason this should get in the way of you finding love through online dating.
Here are 10 tips to help you stay safe while online dating:
1. Keep your personal details private
Avoid putting personal details on your dating profile such as your last name, place of work, and address. You should also avoid linking your online profile to your social media profiles, to avoid having too many distinguishing characteristics out there online.
Make sure that your profile pictures don’t give too many private details away either. If your company name or street name appear behind you in an image, try a simple photo editing app to blur it or remove it altogether from the picture.
2. Check if they are who they say they are
When you hit it off with someone and start chatting online, feel free to do some online sleuthing to see if they are who they say they are. Google them and see if you can get a look at their social media profiles to get an idea of who they are and if it matches how they presented themselves to you.
If the person doesn’t have a social media imprint in 2019 that should be something of a red flag. You take a few seconds to reverse image search their profile pic on Google and make sure it doesn’t match a different person online or you can run a quick background check to ensure you have no reason for concern.
The problem is more rife than you may think. According to one estimate, as much as 10% of new dating profiles online are fake, so practice caution and don’t feel shy about asking a lot of questions.
3. Don’t overshare
Even if you really hit it off with someone on a dating site, resist the urge to send overly flirty or sexual texts or photos. Until you know who this person is in real life, less is more.
Online scammers work by way of “fishing” for targets. They’ll look at your profile for things that they can use to appeal to you or build trust, and see if their efforts can pay off. One method is also to draw close to someone online, start flirting—escalate the flirting—and coax the person into sending pics or posing for them on a webcam. These images can be used for blackmail purposes, so keep things private.
4. Have your first meeting in a public place
Don’t meet at your place or theirs, or anywhere that would give away where you live or work. Meet at a neutral, public location like a cafe, and the daylight hours or early evening are best.
You shouldn’t approach online dating with fear, but it’s recommended to be cautious, and keep in mind that your date is still a stranger, even though you’ve had some interaction with them. Meeting at a public place will give you the time to get to know they are who they say they are in a safe setting. Nobody wants to consider the worst scenario, but it is something you should gameplan for when setting your date.
5. Let a friend know about the date
Before you go to meet your online suitor, tell a friend that you’re going on a date, where you’re going, and give them the name, screen name, and photo (if you have it) of your date. You should also arrange a time for them to call you to check in during the date. This phone call can also be a good excuse to ditch the date if the spark isn’t there.
There are also lots of personal safety apps available which you can download for free. You can connect to your friends through the app and set emergency contacts just in case. The right app can give you the confidence you need to put yourself out there.
6. Arrange your own transportation
Don’t be tempted to have the date pick you up. For one, this will give them an idea of where you live or work, but also, you’ll be alone in their vehicle, and not in control of the situation.
7. Take it slow
No matter how much you like the person, this is still a stranger you met online who you’re meeting for the first time. If someone seems to be rushing things, or professes strong feelings right off the bat, it could be the signs of a romance scam in the works. Even if their intentions are innocent, caution is prudent.
8. Caffeine over alcohol
A beer or 2 or a tall glass of wine isn’t a problem, but on that first date, try not to drink too much. This way you can keep your faculties and assess your environment better. Also, don’t accept a drink that was waiting for you when you arrived or that your date gives you without you seeing them order it. If possible, it’s better to meet over coffee.
9. It’s ok not to be “nice”
If the person is creeping you out or you’re just not comfortable with where the date’s going, be assertive and call it a night. You don’t have to be nice, or worry about hurting anybody’s feelings. There are always other singles online, it’s not the end of the world—for you or them—if this date was a dud.
10. Listen to your gut
Some things just can’t be explained. If your gut is telling you that something just isn’t right, and you need to end the date, then end it. The same goes before the date, if you’ve been chatting with someone and you’re getting a bad feeling about the interaction—listen to that feeling.
Let the (safe) dating begin
Online dating is like countless other things in life. The opportunities are great, but a little caution can go a long way.