It’s a shame that it’s come to this but singles who engage in online dating should be aware that sex offenders, perverts and all manner of bad, bad people are lurking online. In an age where women are advised not to enter elevators with men they don’t know and little girls are taught to “listen to their gut,” it’s a sad fact that online dating sites have become a haven for the nefarious. Based on my experience and the roughly 600,000 articles that have been published on the subject, here are a few of my best bets for staying safe online.
Choose the right site.
Singles prefer all manner of different safety precautions online, some none at all and some enough security to keep out even the real suitors. Dating sites are taking steps to make themselves safer and you should know that some are doing more than others. Match.com (review), for example, recently decided to ban all registered sex offenders from joining the site (following a date-rape suit against Match) and other sites like True.com famously tout their criminal background checks for applicants. It’s important to remember that both of these systems have some BIG loopholes and that just because someone’s not a registered sex offender doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you. If you’re really concerned about online safety (and seriously, if you are, online dating may not be the best place for you. Baby steps.) consider joining a site that’s got extra layers of security.
Utilize the safety features.
Nearly every dating site has some built in safety features. On most sites like Zoosk.com (review) and eHarmony.com (review), these features show up in the form of coded email addresses and on-site phone systems that encourage members not to give out their real life information. Do your best to keep yourself safe online and really, just don’t be dumb. For example ladies, your screen name shouldn’t include your actual name. That’s step one. Step two involves giving away little if any traceable information in your profile like your specific neighborhood, your place of business or especially your address or phone number. Putting this stuff on a dating site is like wearing it on a sandwich board to Times Square.
Keep yourself safe in the real world.
Here’s where it gets dicey. When people talk about being “unsafe” online they don’t actually mean online. They’re talking about the very real possibility of meeting someone who will cause them actual physical harm but HEY! Don’t panic! If you’ve met prince charming online and you’re ready to take the next logical step it’s okay – just meet them in a very public place like a coffee shop or a restaurant. All the standard “don’t take candy from strangers” rules apply: don’t have them pick you up or drop you off, don’t accept a drink you didn’t see poured and for goodness sakes, ladies, until you really get to know Mr. Dating Site, keep it to a two drink minimum. And always, always tell a friend or family member where you’re going and with whom when you meet up with someone new. Predators prey on people with no defenses so all you’ve got to do is keep yours up and you’re golden!
Don’t forget about other crimes…
Violent and sexual crimes are sensational – they make the news and terrify people worldwide but dating sites are just like any other place online and leave users susceptible to theft and property crime. Disclaimer: dating sites aren’t the enemy. This stuff can and does happen anywhere on the web. Just don’t forget that entering in a credit card number or loads of personal info leaves you vulnerable to identity theft and credit card fraud so use the same caution you would if you were online shopping. The golden rule really is that if a site looks too sketchy to be true, it definitely is.
Dating sites don’t have to be scary. Like with anything else, online dating is a wonderful idea that works flawlessly 99% of the time, then a couple of bad apples ruin everyone’s fun. Remember that being online doesn’t make you any safer than standing in front of someone at a bar and though it’s easy to do, don’t forget that you’re talking to a stranger. Yes, he may look like Robert Pattinson and speak with the eloquence of Leo Dicaprio but you don’t know him – yet – so exercise caution. Play by the rules and listen to the dating site moderators. What is it they say? Love is a battlefield? That about sums it up.