Online dating can help you find your perfect match but let’s face it, broken hearts and disappointment are obvious risks. You need to be aware of how to keep yourself and your finances safe.
Don’t panic . . . most people who date online are perfectly normal good people, however it pays to be aware of the risks posed by the minority. This guide will help you stay safe and have a great online dating experience .
Look out for warning signs
Not everyone has similar morals or outlooks on life as you do. Some folks can do a pretty good job at hiding their true agenda, even if you’ve followed most of these tips. First dates (and second dates and even third dates) are for people to be on their best behaviour, so you may not always see the “true self” behind the person you’re sitting across from. Sometimes, though, people can’t be on their good behaviour for that long and signs begin to appear. Look for:
- Avoids answering directly to questions, especially those about issues that are important to you. It’s okay if people joke about their answer, but eventually they need to get around to answering the question or explain why they feel uncomfortable doing so.
- Demeaning or disrespectful comments about you or other people. How your match treats others can be a telling sign into their future behaviours.
- Inconsistent information about any basics, especially anything within their profile. This especially includes marital status, children, employment, where they are living, but also things such as age, appearance, education, career or the like
- Is nothing like the way they describe themselves in their online profile.
- Physically inappropriate or unwanted behaviour (e.g., touching, kissing).
- Pushes quickly to meet in person.
- Avoids phone contact.
Protect your privacy
Make sure that you are always in control of what happens. Do not let anyone pressure you into giving away more information than you feel comfortable with. Once you’re on the site and setting up your profile, it’s important to retain an air of mystery, and not just to attract a date!
- Do not post personal information, such as phone numbers, your address or where you work on dating sites. If you get to know someone, you can of course be more open with your information, but to start with it pays to be wary and only give out personal information on a need-to-know basis.
- Be extremely wary about removing clothes or doing other things in front of your webcam, that could be used against you – even if you think you know the other party.
- Use a dating site that offers the ability to email prospective dates using a service that conceals both parties’ true email addresses.
- As a second line of defence for your privacy, set up a separate email account that does not use your real name. This is very simple and quick to do using such providers as Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or gmail.
- Make sure your phone number is ‘blocked’ to people you contact on dating sites.
- If you’re using a mobile app to keep up with your dating messages, make sure that your location settings are turned off.
- Pick a user name that does not include any personal information. For example, “joe_glasgow” or “jane_liverpool” would be bad choices. Whatever you do, don’t use your real name. It’s easy to track people down on social networking sites using just your name and a few details (unless you’re savvy and have the privacy nicely locked down there too).
Prince (or Princess) Charming may very well indeed be waiting for you online, but you should also set your expectations just a little bit lower. Most of your dates will turn out to be duds. That’s just the statistics! So it helps prepare yourself if you remember that going into the online dating process. Don’t believe that everyone who shows interest in you is worth your time. And don’t get disenchanted if your first date decides they don’t want a second. It’s easy to believe they are rejecting you personally, but it’s for the best. After all, you’re looking for a good, mutual match, not someone to swoon over. (But hey, if you find someone to swoon over, that’s cool too!)
Being realistic also means setting realistic expectations about geography. The Internet allows us to search for and communicate with people from all over the world, regardless of their proximity to us. Unfortunately, that makes a real dating relationship difficult once you have to translate it into the real world. So if you’re not willing to fly to Paris to meet Mr. Frenchie, then don’t look for anybody outside of your local community. Keep in mind, that 50 mile drive for the first date might seem like no big deal, but imagine doing that multiple times a week if things got serious. It can (and has) been done, but know what you’re getting yourself into beforehand.
Report anything suspicious
If you’re convinced that the person who’s been contacting you isn’t genuine, report them to the dating site. Most dating sites should have policies in place to protect genuine members, and will act swiftly if they find that someone on their site is a fraud.
Don’t rush into anything
It’s tempting to get caught up in the excitement of online dating, but don’t rush into anything. It’s perfectly acceptable to be chatting to a few potential dates at the same time, and it pays to spend time getting to know them before you take things to the next stage with anyone.
Take things at your pace. If the other person is a good match for you, then they will not only understand your pace, but will often mirror it! Always talk to the other person by telephone at least once before agreeing to meet for your first date. Ask for a photo (if they didn’t provide one in their profile) so that you can be assured of meeting the right person. Be on the lookout for inconsistencies in their history or any stories they tell you of their life, background, or growing up. Ask informative questions of the other person to ensure they match what and who they say they are in their profile.
If someone seems a little too keen to take the conversation away from the website and onto text messages or calls, you’re totally within your rights to ask them to slow down. Don’t feel the need to give out your phone number if you’re not comfortable doing so. Instead, ask for theirs and remember to put in the code for blocking caller ID before making the call. There’s no need to be paranoid about your privacy, but at the same time, it is wise to take simple precautions that will ensure you remain safe until you are completely comfortable. There are plenty of options for chatting via the sites. Most online dating services use a double-blind system to allow members to exchange correspondence between each other. This allows members to communicate, but without knowing each other’s email addresses or other identifying personal information. It’s best to use the dating service’s internal, secure messaging system until you feel as though you know the person to some degree. This ensures that when you do run into the inevitable creep online, you remain anonymous and safe. Some of the bigger dating sites even have webcam chat, which is great if you want to be able to see and talk to someone without giving them any personal contact information. Only move onto Skype, personal email or give out your mobile number when you’re ready.
Don’t send ‘sexts’ or pictures of yourself wearing very little to someone you’ve never met or don’t know well. Similarly, be wary of doing anything in front of a webcam that could be used against you…
Keep money out of it
It is very common for fraudsters to start an online ‘relationship’ with the sole aim of scamming you out of savings. Don’t fall for hard luck stories. Despite all the warnings, some people are still being duped into handing over cash via dating scams. It should go without saying that you should never give someone you’ve just met on a dating site any money. If they’ve been carefully weaving a sob story, in a lot of cases you can see it coming; the techniques used are similar across the world.
You’ll build up a rapport with someone, they will usually be very polite and complimentary, tell you everything you want to hear, and lead you to believe they have ‘fallen in love’ with you and that you’re special. Once they’ve reeled you in with flattery and declarations of intent, something terrible will happen to them that involves them needing money. They may claim to be working abroad and lose their passport or money, be robbed, or have some unforeseen mishap.
Usually they will be desperate to ‘meet’ you, but can’t get back into the country without the money they need from you. Don’t even think about handing it over. The same applies for receiving money through your personal bank account, or anything involving giving the person involved any of your financial information. Just back off and put the whole thing down to experience, then report them to your dating site’s administrators before they are able to scam anyone else.
Stay safe when meeting up
If someone you meet online is sincerely interested in you, they will want you to feel safe and they will be happy to let you apply a few common sense rules when you meet:
- Meet somewhere public. Don’t agree to meet for the first time at one of your homes – not only are you revealing where you live, but it puts your safety at risk if you’re alone with a stranger in your own home or theirs. This is a no-brainer, but sometimes, even the obvious needs to be said. Most people find a restaurant is ideal, as it gives you both something else to concentrate on from time to time to break up the awkward moments. It also ensures that both parties are on their best behaviour, while still allowing you the opportunity to see how your match behaves in a public situation. Be an astute observer during that first date. The purpose of a first date is to not only see if there is a mutual attraction, but to learn more about the other person in their own words and see how they communicate their intentions non-verbally. By paying attention to all of these cues and information, you will learn a lot more about your match.
- Make your own way to the first date; don’t agree to a lift, however good their intentions may be. Getting into a car with a complete stranger, even if you’ve been chatting for weeks and you think you know them, is never a good idea. If you need to travel to another location on the date, always take your own car or transportation. Always arrange for backup transportation (e.g., a friend) if you’ve relied on public transportation for a meeting. Let a friend or two know that you’ll be out on a date.
- Do tell a friend or family member who you are meeting, where you are going and when you will be back.
- Don’t get drunk. It leaves you open to danger and clouds your judgement.
- Take your mobile phone and keep it switched on.
- Your personal belongings can be stolen. Your drink can be drugged. Don’t leave them unattended.
Time-wasters, cheats and catfish
Unfortunately, some of the people on dating sites, although not trying to scam you for your money, really shouldn’t be there. Catfish are the type of dating site user best avoided, but it can be hard to spot them straight away. They may be married or attached, or just wanting to boost their own ego. Either way, they are a waste of your time because you’ll never meet them. If someone you’ve been chatting to makes repeated excuses about why they can’t meet you, or cancels repeated dates, they could well be a Catfish.
It’s common for this type of site member to try and gain your sympathy by faking a car accident, family crisis or illness that makes it impossible for them to meet you. Of course, it’s perfectly possible that something awful could have happened… but if this person seems to be the unluckiest person you’ve ever come across, they might just be making it up.
There have been cases in which people have made up a completely new persona for online dating – sometimes of the opposite sex! A recent case involved an anonymous woman posing as a man who managed to fool three women at once.
There are a lot of lovely people online, but unfortunately, just like in real life, some can turn out to be a pest. Cyber stalking is always a possibility when you’re dating online, so keep your personal details private until you know someone better, and stay on your guard. Another tip is to Google your name to find out whether there’s any information online that could be used by a stranger to identify you and track you down.
If you’ve decided you don’t want to be in touch with someone anymore, and they won’t take no for an answer, report them to the dating site and block their emails and IMs. If they persist, try contacting their Internet Service Provider (ISP) – you can find the domain from their email address. If there is any suggestion that you might be in danger, report them to the police.
Be Sexually Responsible
Inevitably, some online dating is going to lead to a sexual relationship. This is not the time to start being coy. Know your partners’ sexual background by asking direct, frank questions about the number of partners he or she has been with, whether protection was always used, how well they knew the people (was it mostly serious relationships or just one night flings?), and whether they have any known sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, it’s not easy to talk about these sorts of things, but it’s important to do so before your first night in bed. When in doubt, definitely use a condom.
If you’ve made the decision to date long-distance, make a note of it in your profile. Since travel is usually expensive for most people, be realistic about your ability to see the other person. Ensure you feel completely comfortable with the other person before making your first trip to see them. If possible, make all of your travel plans yourself and arrange to stay at a hotel. Get a rental car if you need to get around town with your date. Avoid making dates at your hotel’s restaurant or having your match meet you at your hotel. Only after you’ve met and feel completely comfortable should you share such information with the other person. While some of this may seem a bit silly at first, you need to protect yourself until you are certain the other person is legitimate and you are comfortable with them.
Be prepared to pay
There are some well-established free dating sites such as Zoosk, Match and Plenty of Fish, but although the sites themselves are reputable, some of the users might not be so trustworthy. You’re less likely to meet a scammer or a time-waster if you’re prepared to fork out a membership fee. If members have to use a debit or credit card to sign up, they are also traceable, which may deter less genuine people from joining.
Many dating sites have free weekends and offers designed to tempt you to join. You’ll get a limited membership and normally have to give the company your credit card details upfront. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you know that after the free trial is up, your credit card will be charged. This also happens automatically at the end of your initial membership period, unless you stop it in advance.
If you’re not happy with the site, make sure that you cancel your membership before the next set of fees is due or you could be charged for a service you don’t want.
AND SO . . . . .
As the old saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Don’t pin all of your hopes on one person, until you’re sure your feelings are returned. Keep an open mind, an open heart, and most of all, your common sense.
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