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The Short Version: Online dating makes it easier than ever to find your perfect match, but, if you’re not careful, it can also be fraught with potential safety risks and privacy concerns. The National Cyber Security Alliance is a nonprofit organization that serves as a free resource for consumers, offering a plethora of helpful advice when it comes to online safety, including online dating. The small and passionate team provides security tips on everything from navigating social media to shopping on retail sites — with several ongoing initiatives to create awareness about cybersecurity among every demographic.
Online dating has become one of the most popular ways to meet people, and millions of singles have found love online with someone they might not have met otherwise. But meeting a stranger online can also come with various risks. It’s possible to become a victim of fraud, assault, or worse.
The good news is that, by taking proper precautions and understanding the risks, it’s much easier to avoid potentially compromising or dangerous situations. The National Cyber Security Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making the internet safer for everyone. “Our mission is to foster the culture of cybersecurity and online safety and privacy, and we’re really big on education and awareness raising efforts,” said Executive Director Russ Schrader.
The NCSA’s website provides a wealth of helpful information for consumers about online safety and cybersecurity. Each section of the website addresses different safety concerns and offers guidance.
One area particularly helpful for online daters is the Securing Key Accounts and Devices section. This resource can teach you how to secure your home network, how to use social media wisely, what to do if your accounts are hacked or compromised, how to keep your smartphones safe, and how to create secure passwords.
Online daters also might want to check out the Managing Your Privacy section, which explains how to navigate the privacy settings on your mobile devices as well as the online services you use.
Overall, the NCSA, whether on its website or Twitter and Facebook profiles, hits on every important topic, including theft, fraud, and cybercrime, not to mention the personalized tips for teens, seniors, and businesses it offers.
Crimes committed through online dating can happen — there’s just no getting around it. So Russ gave us some tips for staying safe — no matter if you’re communicating with a stranger online or meeting up for that first date.
1. Don’t reveal your last name right away. “You don’t know if this person could potentially defraud you or commit violent assault or stalking,” Russ said.
2. Make sure you’re comfortable with whatever information you share. Don’t feel pressured to reveal details about yourself, Russ suggested.
3. Be mindful of the photos you share and with whom you share them.
4. When you meet people, whether for online dating or buying something from a site like Craigslist, be careful about choosing the meeting place. A public area is always best. In addition, make sure you have a friend who knows where you’re going, and make sure you have a phone that’s charged.
5. Don’t reveal where you live. “If you’re telling someone you’ll meet them at a certain place at a certain time, and they’re able to reverse engineer your home, you just told somebody your apartment or house is empty from this time to that time. If they’re working with a team of burglars, things can happen,” Russ said. “These situations are rare, but you don’t want to be the person this happens to — you don’t want to turn into a crime statistic.”
The NCSA team is small, with only about a dozen employees, but everyone who works there is dedicated to accomplishing their mission, Russ told us. They enjoy encouraging each other to explore new topics surrounding the internet and learn more about the world, in general — whether through books, movies, videos, games, or experiences.
“We really like expanding the exposure to the cultural education and social world around people, no matter where they are,” Russ said. “Because it’s only a click from the middle of the Heartland prairies in the US to the downtown in the biggest cities on either coast. So we really feel a genuine pride in increasing that kind of awareness. It’s also nice to help people realize they can do that safely.”
The team harnesses the power of social media for outreach and spreading the NCSA message far and wide. Team members also leverage resources from the companies that participate in their initiatives.
“Companies that participate are like a who’s who — we have Facebook, we have Google, and banks, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, along with financial service providers like Mastercard and Visa,” Russ said. “Intel and Cisco are also working with us — in addition to a lot of big Silicon Valley companies and other nationally recognized organizations.”
The NCSA works with these resources to help consumers and businesses protect themselves. “Anyone working for a nonprofit is not doing it for the money; you’re doing it because you believe in the cause and believe you’re having a positive effect on society and people,” Russ said. “I think everyone who works here really feels that down to the core.”
In addition to its social media and website presence, the NCSA is working on future initiatives to promote safer internet use. Each year on Jan. 28, the team commemorates Data Privacy Day to “create awareness about the importance of respecting privacy, safeguarding data, and enabling trust,” according to the website.
The NCSA also holds National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October in partnership with the US Department of Homeland Security, which has a major stake and a lot of resources in regard to cybersecurity, Russ said. The event serves “as a collaborative effort between government and industry to ensure every American has the resources they need to stay safer and more secure online,” according to the website.
Each week has a theme, and Russ said the team has just started working on plans for this year.
The NCSA is also putting on events throughout the country for a new program it’s launched called CyberSecure My Business. It aims to promote education and awareness about cybersecurity for small and medium businesses.
“If you go to a restaurant, they’re in the business of serving food, not keeping their internet servers up to date,” Russ said. “If you go to a shop, they’re there to sell you stuff, not to change passwords every month and make sure they download all the patches and their servers are connected and systems are secure end-to-end. So we help them in day-long, workbook-driven classes with simple tips.”