ONLINE
DATING SAFETY

As in any situation that involves meeting new people, a healthy level of caution is in order when delving in dating online.

There are many people who are hesitant to date online because of safety issues. What if the person you are meeting is dangerous? What if you meet a crazy person and wind up on Unsolved Mysteries? Do they even still make Unsolved Mysteries?

On the other end of the spectrum are people who do not think that online dating can be dangerous at all. These are typically younger folks have grown up in a completely digital world. They've been chatting with people online since they were playing Club Penguin at age six, so how is meeting someone to date any different?

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF DATING ONLINE?

The truth of the safety of online dating is somewhere in the middle. Dating online exposes you to the same types and levels of danger as meeting someone in a bar and agreeing to go on a date. There are dangers that pop up when people do not take precautions to keep themselves safe online. Some of the dangers of online dating include:

FRAUD

On a number of dating sites, people will pretend to be in need in order to get individuals to send them money. They come on romantic, but soon have some sort of emergency and need you to wire them cash.

CATFISHING

This is often linked to the danger above. People will use photos of someone else to draw someone in online.

WEBCAM BLACKMAIL

This involves people recording your actions on webcam and then threatening you with extortion. In some cases, they will attempt to extort additional sexual activities on camera or in person. In others, they will attempt to extort money.

HARASSMENT

People who are rejected do not always take it well. There have been cases of harassment on dating sites, on social media, via text and even in person.

THEFT

When you allow anyone who you do not know into your home, theft is a possible risk.

VIOLENCE

While the chances of a violent encounter are small, precautions can reduce your risk of sexual or physical violence.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE

In relationships, there is a risk of emotional abuse from a partner. Learning to recognize the signs can help you recognize a toxic situation and avoid getting sucked in.

As mentioned above, dangerous encounters on dating sites are very rare. A study performed in the UK indicated that, while over seven million UK residents are registered with at least one dating site, only 184 reported negative experiences like sexual assault. As with any forum where people can meet, the risk of a dangerous encounter is low.

To keep your chances of danger even more remote, keep our safety tips in mind:

CHOOSE THE SITE CAREFULLY

When you are considering a dating site, there are many reasons to stick with ones that are well-known. Not only do you have a better chance of finding love on a site with a good number of users. You also can better protect your identity and your credit by picking a well-known site with a good reputation.

When you are using a dating site where you need to make payments to use specific features, use a credit card instead of a debit card. This way, you are protected from fraudulent activity.

Stick with sites that use encrypted pages for billing. Otherwise, your personal information can be at risk.

Watch credit card statements carefully. If you check often for illicit charges, you can be better assured that your information has not been stolen.

LOCKING DOWN YOUR PROFILE

One of the things that people worry about is being stalked by people who see their profiles. There have been many cases of individuals failing to take no for an answer and then following an individual to another outlet.

To keep this from happening, it is important to be careful about the information that you provide in your profile. Little clues can make it too easy for people to find out more about you than you want them to know. By taking some precautions, you can assure that you are in control of what other online daters learn about you and when.

CHOOSE USERNAMES CAREFULLY

In some cases, usernames are enough to cause a problem. It is never a good idea to use your full name on a dating prole. This can make it too easy for anyone who views the profile to get extensive information about you, including your address, your phone number and your place of work. If you have an uncommon first name, an alias or nickname can be safer. You should also avoid using screennames that you use elsewhere on the web. For instance, if you use CutePixie6 for everything, anyone who has your dating profile ID can also see your emotionally revealing posts on reddit or in your old abandoned LiveJournal. Names that reveal where you work or go to school should also be avoided.

PHOTOS CAN ALSO BE A DANGER

A common tactic shared in Pick Up Artist forums is to take a screen shot of a potential hookup's photos on apps like Tinder. Then, photos are fed into a service like TinEye or Google Image's reverse image search. If the image has been used as a profile picture on Facebook, the searcher now has a full name, a list of interests, a list of friends and any other information that has been added to

Facebook but not friends-locked. The name information can then be used for Google searches, LinkedIn searches to learn about your place of work and other information.

For this reason, ensure that all of the photos you use for online dating are taken specically for that purpose. This will ensure that a reverse image search won't reveal more than you'd like to reveal to someone who you do not know.

What you are wearing and the backgrounds of photos can also give away more than you would like. If you go to a small college, do not take a photo in your college sweatshirt. You should also avoid taking your dating profile pictures in front of recognizable buildings that are too close to where you live or work.

STAYING PROTECTED IN VIDEO CHAT

Many people like to take a bit of time on Skype or another video chat service before meeting in person. This can be a good idea for some, as you can get a better idea about whether your date looks like his or her photos. However, it's important to always remember that any video that you transmit can be saved and redistributed without your approval. This includes apps like SnapChat, where photos and videos are supposedly deleted after a short period of time. Someone who is determined to capture your images can use third-party software to get what they want.

If there is any chance that naked pictures or sexually explicit videos could damage your reputation at work, with your family or at school, give careful consideration before engaging in them. At the very least, ensure that photos do not show your face or any identifying marks, such as tattoos and that they are only ever sent from an account that is not easily tracked back to you.

A SAFE FIRST DATE

It's not possible to get a strong feel for someone just from chatting and talking on the phone. To really get to know one another, you will need to meet in person and see how you click.

A first meeting should always be somewhere that is public. This way, if things do not go well, the person you went on your date with will not have your address.

Always ensure that you have your own transportation. If you are taking a cab or a service like Uber, set up a back-up plan. For instance, if you took an online service like Uber, also download Lyft and carry cash. This way, even if one service is down, you still have transportation.

Let someone know where you are and who you are with. You should check in with the same friend or family member later in the evening so that they know that you got home safe.

Never drink excessively on a first date. Excessive drinking can mar your judgment and make you feel safer than you otherwise would. Excessive drinking can also make it easier for someone to physically overpower you. A drink or two is fine, but make sure that you nurse those drinks and also have something to eat.

If you are buying drinks, make sure that they are always in your sight. Unscrupulous individuals can add flavorless contaminants to your drink without you knowing. Order your own drinks at the bar and always carry them with you if you go to use the restroom.

RECOGNIZING DANGER ON A FIRST DATE

In some cases, there is no way to tell someone who is dangerous from someone who is not. However, these first date red flags can be a sign that it's time to ask for a split check and run:

  • Your date insists on picking you up or meeting at their place. If they do not respect your wishes here, they'll probably push boundaries in other places, too.

  • Your date is drunk or under the influence of drugs. Either can interfere with judgment and may cause them to act more aggressively than they otherwise might.

  • Your date is making aggressive sexual comments. This can be an especially serious warning sign if they continue after you have indicated that this makes you uncomfortable.

  • Your date is trying to control what you eat or drink. A controlling nature can be paired with aggression.

If you feel you are in danger, do not try to wait out the date. Make an excuse to leave and use your own transportation to get home. Do not allow someone who is making you uncomfortable to drive you home.

KEEPING SAFE WHEN THINGS
PROGRESS TO SEX

Sex is an important part of most romantic relationships. By taking precautions, you can ensure that it is one that is pleasurable and provides the connection that you want.

Think about birth control and STD protection before your first date. A woman who buys condoms isn't slutty or forward; she's careful. Having them on-hand assures that you won't be tempted to take any chances.

There is nothing wrong with asking a few careful questions about past relationships and recent dating. While not everyone will be candid, you can give one another an idea about any level of risk of STDs.

Avoid drinking too much and heading back to one another's homes early on. You may wind up getting in deeper than you planned and making some decisions that your sober self might not agree with.

If you are a sexually active woman, make that appointment for your annual exam. It's a chance to ensure that there are no possibilities of health complications that can stand in the way of intimacy and fun.

STAYING SAFE AS THE RELATIONSHIP PROGRESSES

First date or two went well? You should still be cautious as you get to know someone better. Infatuation can lead us to overlook warning signs that would otherwise be obvious. As you begin getting to know each other better, be on the lookout for these warning signs that you are entering a potentially abusive relationship:

  • The person you are dating pushes for a commitment too quickly. It's not safe to rush in. Take some time to get to know each other before making it official or taking extreme steps like moving in together.

  • They are jealous. People who act possessive or jealous early on often seek to control you.

  • They try to isolate you from family or friends. A person who is working to cut you off wants you all to themeselves. They are removing other people from your life so that you do not have the sort of outside insights that can tell you when you are in a bad situation.

  • They blame you for their mistakes. If everything is your fault, that is a sign that this is a person who cannot take responsibility for their own actions.

  • They belittle you. Someone who insults your appearance, your intelligence, your job or anything else does not deserve to be with you. This is someone who may be trying to reduce your self esteem so that you will tolerate behavior that you otherwise wouldn't.

  • They ask you for money or push you to take on their bills. This is a type of financial abuse.

  • They have a past of battering or physical abuse. Studies show that people who have been violent in one relationship will be violent in another.

ENJOYING YOURSELF WHILE
STAYING SAFE

We don't want to scare you off. While the dangers above and others are a possibility when you open yourself up to online dating, none are absolutely destined to happen.

As in any relationship, online dating requires a clear head and a cautious attitude. By setting rules early on and paying attention to others' behavior, you can better ensure that you are in a position to avoid the bad apples and find that good one.

By taking care and taking things slowly, you can ensure that the person who you meet is a good fit for you and a kind and compassionate partner.

Everything worthwhile in life requires a level of risk. And, any risks associated with online dating can be tempered by critical thinking and careful protection. Create a profile that reflects who you are without giving it all away. Send messages and learn whether you and that someone who caught your eye are a match. Enjoy a few nights out together and see where this will go. By balancing safety with taking the right types of chances, you can have a pleasant dating experience and maybe even find the love for you.