My online dating vetting process is fairly straightforward: I don’t go out with someone I’ve only briefly chatted with online. It takes time to build trust, and I’m not in a hurry to meet any random smooth talker with an internet connection. If a guy asks me out right away, I’m upfront that it’s not personal, but I’d rather play it safe and wait an extra week or so.
“That sounds like a waste of time. It’s not like guys are going to tell you they’re murderers or rapists,” one bitter stranger once told me. Well, they don’t tell you they’re jerks either, but sometimes you just know.
When you join a dating site, you’re putting your personal information as well as your heart on the line, so it’s not unreasonable to take precautions and protect yourself from creeps, scammers, and ill-intentioned dates. If you’re wondering how to stay safe as you create a dating profile and mingle online, you can follow our top nine safety tips for online daters.
1. Create a New Email Just for Online Dating
Our first tip is to separate your online dating identity from your everyday online activity. By keeping those two worlds apart, you can keep strangers from stalking your other accounts. By using a brand-new and unconnected email and username, you give yourself a foolproof escape route should things turn sour.
AVG Product Evangelist Tony Anscombe recommends creating a burner email account to sign up for a dating site. That way, Tony explained, if you have a bad experience on the site, you can completely erase your existence and cut ties with no lingering connection to your primary email account.
2. Use Photos That Will Only Appear on Your Profile
Your online dating photos typically have a central spot on your profile because, like it or not, looks are very important to potential matches. Your photos will come under scrutiny and can tell visitors who you are. Just make sure it isn’t TMI.
You should take care that the images you put out there aren’t breadcrumbs leading back to your social media accounts. To keep yourself from being recognized, don’t reuse your Facebook or Instagram photos — unless you want strangers tracing your pics back to you.
Online daters should also make sure their photos don’t reveal where they live or work. A photo of your house could make it easier for potential stalkers to come knocking at your door. Not a fan. Be very careful what information you divulge with a single snapshot.
3. Don’t Publish or Give Out Personal/Financial Info
This should be a no-brainer. Identity theft hit an all-time high in 2016, impacting about 15.4 million consumers, and remains a growing problem thanks to the ease of sharing and stealing information online. Posting your personal details makes you vulnerable to identity thieves.
Online daters shouldn’t disclose sensitive information to anyone on the web. Your last name or home address may be the key that person uses to compromise your security and cause all sorts of trouble.
“Don’t put down your address or Social Security number,” advises Jon Clay, Director of Global Threat Communications for TrendMicro. “And just be cautious about who you’re interacting with [online].”
4. Ask a Lot of Questions
Asking questions is a good way to keep a flirtatious conversation going, and it also helps singles ferret out falsehoods, inconsistencies, and sketchy behavior. And that keeps you safe!
From the first message to the first date, you should ask your date prospects a lot of personal questions to suss out their character and compatibility. That doesn’t mean asking “Where do you live?” or “Are you a murderer?” You should be more subtle than that. No one likes it when people pry into their personal affairs.
A few simple inquiries about your date’s background, job, and life goals can help you understand him or her better, which fosters greater trust in the match.
It just so happens that our dating experts have written an article about good online dating questions for singles looking to dig a little deeper and get to the heart of who someone really is.
5. Do a Google Search on Your Matches
When someone contacts you online, do your research on them. A lot of times, you won’t be able to find much on them (probably because they’ve followed our first safety tip), but sometimes searching for a username on Google or reverse image searching a profile pic on TinEye can turn up other online dating accounts or social media profiles.
This research can help you quickly verify online identities. Or spot dealbreakers. You may find a Facebook profile with references to a girlfriend or boyfriend — or you may discover multiple online dating profiles with conflicting information. Or you could learn your match is a cat person. Whatever the case may be, it’s better to know before you agree to a date.
You can learn a lot through a simple Google search, and that knowledge can help you decide if the person you’re talking to is the real deal.
6. Never Send People Money
There is no wiggle room here. Never ever ever send money to someone you don’t know. If you haven’t met someone in person, you don’t really know if they are who they say they are, which means they could very well be conning you. Under no circumstances is it appropriate to exchange money through a dating site. Ever.
In general, when someone you met on a dating site asks you for money, alarm bells should sound in your head. Normal trustworthy people come to dating sites looking for dates; only scammers come looking for cash.
You should treat people online with a healthy amount of skepticism, especially where your finances are involved.
A charming scam artist may try to sell you on some down-on-their-luck story, but just say no. Odds are, it’s a lie to tug at your heartstrings and target your wallet. If you think you’ve fallen prey to an online dating scam artist, you can report the offense to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
7. Meet in Person in a Public Place ASAP
While I don’t dive into IRL date plans within the first few messages, I don’t want the online conversation to linger for months and months either. I’m not looking for a pen pal, and you never really know if you click with someone until you’ve met him or her in person. It’s an awful feeling to invest weeks in an online conversation only to see the chemistry fizzle in person.
So, as soon as you feel comfortable, you should get off your computer (or your smartphone) and arrange a date in a public place. Whether you meet for lunch or coffee, make sure the place is familiar to you and reasonably safe. Public parks are good. Deserted bike trails are bad.
If your date offers to drive you, politely refuse until you’ve gotten to know that person better. As dating coach Jonathon Aslay put it, “Having your own wheels gives you control should the date go bad. The worst thing is to be reliant on somebody else for transportation.”
8. Block Suspicious Users & Report Them to the Site
Most dating sites let users police the online community by blocking or reporting suspicious and malicious profiles. You can block anyone you want to stop messaging you and report anyone who makes you feel unsafe while online.
Once notified about inappropriate content or behavior, the dating site’s security team then takes action to penalize members who violate the member code of conduct by making threats, posting inappropriate photos, falsifying information, or attempting to scam other members.
Because member satisfaction is paramount to the site’s continued success, dating sites often don’t hesitate to ban members who undermine the platform’s values of friendship, flirtation, and genuine connection. By bringing bad behavior to the attention of site moderators, you can actually improve the online dating experience for everyone.
You should read through your dating site’s specific safety policy for more information. It can differ from site to site. For instance, Match.com’s Integrity Team will categorically remove nude photos from the site while sex-oriented dating sites, like BeNaughty, allow the sharing of raunchy and revealing pics online.
9. Listen to Your Gut Feelings
Last of all, trust your instincts. If you get a bad feeling about someone, don’t go out with that person. If you’re not comfortable on a date, get out of there. It’s important that you feel completely safe with your date. A good match should put your mind at ease and respect your concerns. If they don’t, they aren’t worth your time.
Any attempts to pressure, cajole, or manipulate you should be the end of the conversation. Swipe right and move on. Life’s too short to give jerks a second chance. And there’s no sense in risking your personal safety.
Use Good Judgment to Stay Safe While Online Dating
Online dating isn’t all that scary. Although it can seem intimidating, especially when you’re new to it, many upstanding dating sites prioritize member security. When I signed up for my first dating site, I worried that I was exposing myself to the jerks of the universe, but the majority of guys I’ve met (online and offline) have been decent conversationalists who respect my boundaries.
I’ve definitely grown more comfortable with online dating as I gained experience going out and meeting people. Dating platforms offer non-threatening environments where singles can safely put themselves out there. Many of today’s dating sites and apps do the vetting for you, so you can search for dates without worrying if they’re phonies or criminals. We hope you use our safety tips to online date with confidence and good sense. Be safe!