Remember when dating was relatively simple? You’d meet a potential suitor by happenstance (or be introduced by a friend), then exchange numbers and talk on the phone. If the call went well, you’d make plans to go out. And if that meetup was successful, you’d plan another date.
Technology has changed much of that. While there are still some people who can brag about a meet-cute at a dog park, the rise in online dating has turned traditional courtship on its end. And the exploding number of dating sites and apps allow singles seeking companionship to connect with each other more quickly and easily than ever.
So it is no surprise that with so many strangers meeting strangers, the possibility of danger has increased exponentially.
Safety must be a top priority for anyone looking for a date in the digital space, stresses Carla VandeWeerd, a University of South Florida professor and lead author of a report that explored the online dating experiences of women 50 and older. It’s vital to “take all the steps you possibly can to be safe,” she says.
Yet, many are unsure of what preventive actions to take.
One in 4 adults said they don’t know enough when it comes to dating safety, according to a survey of 2,000 British singles conducted by dating app Plenty of Fish. Almost a quarter of those polled also said they were concerned for their safety while on a date in the previous 12 months.
To play it safe, be shrewd when sharing personal information, use the internet for reconnaissance, and always meet a potential mate first in a public setting. Read on for details and more advice from fraud experts, relationship counselors, dating sites and consumer protection agencies.
Put a premium on privacy “You really want to be guarded with your personal information,” says Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support at AARP. Don’t disclose your work or home address, your Social Security number, your credit card number or any details about your banking accounts, warns dating service Match. Experts also say to edit out any identifying information in photos, such as a home address or license plate number.
Reject any requests for money It’s a neon red flag whenever anyone seeks cash, gift cards, merchandise or anything else of value. If an online dating match makes that ask, report it to the dating site and stop all communications with that person, Nofziger advises.
Keep conversations on the dating platform Scammers will quickly try to move the conversation to email or text, saying their subscription is about to end or they don’t log onto the dating app frequently. But once a user goes off a legitimate site, it’s risky terrain. Dating sites and apps have systems to uncover con artists, says Megan Murray, editor in chief of The Date Mix, the online magazine for dating site Zoosk. “If a scammer can get you to talk to them outside of the dating app you're on, then they're less likely to get caught.”
Do some basic reconnaissance Google a potential suitor, VandeWeerd suggests. Among the things to check, according to the Better Business Bureau: profile name, email address and phone number. A Plenty of Fish “Safer Dating Report” also recommends using the people-focused search portal Pipl to do a background check.
Investigate the images Many fraudsters cloak their real identity by using photos swiped from other sites. To discover where else a picture may have appeared, upload it to web-scouring sites that use image recognition technology. The BBB recommends tineye.com or images.google.com. If an admirer’s photo is associated with other people and shows up on unexpected sites, be wary.
Set up a predate video chat This can give you a feel for the person you are meeting — and can be done from the safety of your home, VandeWeerd notes. Be sure to remove any personal or identifying information that could show up in the background.
Pick a public setting for the first date A remote hike? No. Starbucks? Yes. “Have a video chat, and then progress to something like coffee that can happen in a public space and doesn't take a lot of time,” VandeWeerd advises. “That’s a good way to pace the process and make sure that you're staying safe.”
Make sure your cellphone battery is fully charged, experts say, in case you need to call someone for assistance. And always provide your own transportation to and from the date; don’t get into someone else’s car.
Inform friends or family of your whereabouts “Let trusted friends and family know where you are going to be and who you are going to be with,” VandeWeerd says. “Check in after the date is over so there's someone who can come looking for you immediately if something doesn't go the way that you might expect.”