Online dating has hit the mainstream. People of all ages and stages are taking advantage of interpersonal tests and technology to find a match that is just right.
But is online dating safe? Here is what you need to know before venturing into the online dating world.
Keep it Online For Awhile
The first rule is to find an online dating service that you trust, so you might want to stick to the well-known, reputable online dating services. Do some research about the website or service before filling out any personal information. The largest online dating services have detailed privacy policies in place, as well as very specific guidelines as to what kind of information they collect and how that information is used. The big online dating services also generally have systems in place that allow you to chat with other members without giving away the details of your identity.
Once you have found an online dating service that appeals to you and matches your interests and lifestyle, keep your personal information to yourself. Do not give out your phone number, address, or any other personal information online. Limit your correspondence to anonymous chat until you get to know the other person well enough to share your more personal information.
There are lots of ways to create a semi-anonymous identity, and still allow people to reach you. For example, set up a free email account just for your online dating correspondence. You can also set up a voicemail account and a post office box. There are times when you may feel compatibility at first, and then wish you had not given away your information. Providing personally identifying details should come fairly late in the game.
Making Phone Calls
Use a public phone or a cell phone to make phone calls. If you use your home phone number, call the person yourself and block the Caller ID before making the phone call. Keep in mind that if you give your home phone number, your home address can be found quite easily. If the person has given you a toll-free number (such as a 1-800 number) beware. The number you call from will probably be listed on the itemized phone bill.
Before you call the number for the first time, call directory assistance (or look up the number online) to ensure that the number you were given matches with the name.
Do a search for their name on Google, ask.com, and zoominfo.com
Once You Decide to Meet in Person
If you feel like it is the right time to meet face-to-face, here are a few precautions:
Do not go to their home. Instead, meet at a public place, where lots of people gather. You can also choose a special event to attend. Let a friend or two know where you are going and how to get in touch with you while you are there. Or ask a friend to call you at a set time. Let your friends know what time you expect to return, as well. You may even want to take a friend along for the first meeting, and suggest that the other person do, too. Not only can this break the ice, it can really help you to feel more comfortable.
During a meal, avoid leaving your food, drink, or personal belongings unattended at the table. If you need to excuse yourself from the table during the date, take your pocketbook with you, and order another drink when you return. If you start to feel sick, call a friend immediately to ask to drive you home.
Do not drink. It is important that you be able to drive yourself home. And if you travel for the first date, make sure your hotel accommodations remain a secret. This is an especially good time to bring along a friend along.
The bottom line is: There are people out there who are going to want to take advantage of you. Do not be paranoid, but be aware. Follow your gut. Ask questions of potential matches, and be aware and skeptical of anything they say that contradicts something they may have said previously or anything they stated in their online dating profile.
It is up to you to pay attention to anything that does not feel right. Online, anyone can be pretend to be someone they are not, so take everything with a grain of salt. Remember that you cannot completely guarantee your safety in any kind of dating situation, but you can greatly decrease your risk by remaining alert and using common sense.