According to the statistics, of the 54 million single people in the United States, a whopping 40 million of them have tried online dating. In fact, in the current information age, it may be that the Internet is the leading place to meet dates. The thing about the Internet, though, is that instead of going on blind dates with people who your loved ones know and trust, you are having blind dates with complete strangers with no personal reference. People can, and do, lie about themselves online and, although the majority of people are probably legitimate, meeting up with strangers is risky.
So should you give up and make it a policy to only date people you meet in real life? That’s one option, but you’re cutting out a large pool of available singles who may be fun and interesting people. It turns out you can use online dating sites and still be safe. Here are six tips to keep in mind:
Use a Reputable Online Dating Site
The first thing you can do to increase your safety when online dating is to only use a very reputable site. Some sites have iffy business practices and poor customer service, which may leave you high and dry if you have a complaint or problem. Check out feedback from other users, or use sites that your friends have had good luck with. Also, read site reviews and make sure you are familiar with the terms and conditions of the service you choose. Once you’ve found sites that make the safety of their clients a priority, you can move forward with creating your profile, keeping the rest of the safety tips in mind.
Look for Inconsistencies
Most people fudge the truth a bit in online dating profiles; it may be age, fitness level, job status, or a heavy dependence on Photoshop. Read profiles with skepticism and keep an eye out for inconsistencies as you get to know people better. Ask direct questions—people who avoid answering or give inconsistent answers should be a red flag. Listen to your gut and maintain a certain level of guardedness— and don’t believe everything you read, even if you really, really want to.
When you’re looking for love, it’s very easy to let your emotions rule over your mind. We are naturally attracted to novelty and assume the best of people we think might be a good match. However, because the internet allows people to easily hide who they really are, it’s in your best interest to take it slow. Take time to get to know people online, be prepared to be honest, and demand honesty in return. Steer clear of people who evade questions, seem too good to be true, refuse to provide current photos, won’t speak to you on the phone, or who say things that make you uncomfortable. It’s okay to walk away without explanation. If someone is the right person for you, he or she will be willing to get to know you gradually.
Keep Your Personal Information to Yourself
Never share information online that could allow someone to find you offline. That includes your full name, address, phone number, where you work, and so on. Consider setting up an anonymous email address through Gmail or Hotmail that you only use for the purposes of online dating. Also, make sure your online dating service uses an anonymizer so you can be safe emailing and chatting with people on the site itself. Stalking is a real and terrifying occurrence, and you can never know the agendas of the people you meet online.
Once things have progressed to a phone conversation, you will still want to take some precautions to make sure you stay anonymous. You can use a payphone for the first call, or dial *67 from your landline to prevent your name and number from showing up on their caller ID. If you call from your cell phone, your information will appear, but some carriers have privacy settings—check with yours to see what your options are.
It’s really just common sense that you should meet up with a date in public only, especially on the first date, but people have a way of convincing themselves that people are trustworthy based on very little evidence. This is especially true of potential romantic relationships, so bring a little extra caution to the table. Always transport yourself to the date location and home again—do not accept a ride from your date. Make sure the first date is completely public and someplace you are familiar and comfortable with. Keep the first date casual, short, and preferably during the daytime.
Other precautions for first dates: never leave your food or drink unattended. Always carry a cell phone with you. Always tell friends and/or family members where you will be and when you expect to return so they can follow up. Finally, listen to what your gut tells you and take it seriously. If you feel uneasy, there is probably a good reason for it.
Report Inappropriate Behavior
If something goes wrong and the date takes a turn for the scary, report the person to the police as well as to the dating site. Report cyber stalking as well. Remember, even if you didn’t follow the safety rules, no means no and if something bad happens, the perpetrator needs to be reported so he or she doesn’t do it again to someone else. Do not be embarrassed about insisting on safety precautions—if the person is legitimate, he or she will have no problem with your level of caution.
Now go forth and date…safely.