Each year millions of people try 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. Still, online dating requires you to be cautious and take extra steps to protect yourself. A little prevention can come between you and heartache or even physical danger when it comes to online dating. The following advice may help.
1. 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. Always read the privacy statement carefully, compare services, and get the opinions of friends before you become a member.
2. 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.
3. Stay incognito for awhile.
Create your profile with care. Don’t reveal anything that would compromise your safety. 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.
4. 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, getting 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.
5. 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.
6. 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- report any dishonesty to the dating service.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Err on the side of caution.
People rarely regret being extra careful when making decisions, but we all know someone who acted too quickly and regretted it. Anyone worth dating will give you the time you need to feel comfortable about your choices.
10. 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.
11. 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.
Bottom line: Be realistic, trust your instincts and protect yourself.