According to the BBC, only in the UK, reports of date rape involving online dating grow almost 40% per year. Research on dating sites shows that more than 10% of profile pictures are fake and that almost 70% of people using online dating services lie about something relevant. Dating never happens without risks, regardless of where or how you met.
Being careless can end up in situations far worse than a broken heart, such as fraud, theft, physical injuries, and even death. While research also shows that women are more vulnerable, men can also fall victim to dating scams. So, how to stay safe? While there are no guarantees, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
Information is Power
The best way to be safe is to know as much as you can about your potential romantic partner. Running an online background check is a good start. While a Google or social media search can give you valuable information, the internet can also send you through an endless rabbit hole where you no longer know if you are researching the right person.
That’s why there professional are search services. For example, CheckPeople.com gives you unlimited searches for a reasonable yearly fee. Using their service, you just need to type a name into the search box and you get an organized report in minutes. The report includes everything from social media information to publicly available court records, known addresses, and even marital status.
Be Careful with Stalking
While researching someone before a date is encouraged for safety reasons, you should always know where to stop. There’s a difference between peaking their social media accounts and visiting every one of their friend’s profiles.
While, for example, it is okay –maybe even important– to read some conversations (so you can determine that you are not dealing with a racist or violent person), it’s not okay to go through every single one of their conversations and look for false “clues”. The best way to address something that may be of concern is to honestly talk about it.
Making assumptions from online interactions can really hurt the possibilities of a healthy relationship, which should always be based on trust.
Regardless of the stage of your relationship (it doesn’t matter if you have been dating for a few months or if you are still on the conversations before an actual date) don’t agree to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Don’t send pictures that make you feel vulnerable (and never send sensitive photographs of yourself to someone you don’t know). Do not agree to go to a private place if something feels odd. Leave if you feel endangered in any way.
Algorithms can help you pick someone with whom you have stuff in common, but they will never replace common sense and the power of a gut feeling.
Understand You are Also “Under Investigation”
It never hurts to run a quick search on yourself and see what pops up.
You would be surprised by how many mistakes happen when handling databases, and how many can be corrected once you know about them. These can be anything: from displaying information that should remain private (such as an expunged record) to being confused with someone else because of name and surname similarities.
If you are in the very first stages of online dating, people will be searching for information about you, so take a step and verify that the information they get is accurate. Under the law, you have the right to ask for any personal information to be taken down from the internet. Usually, asking the webmaster should be enough, but some cases can require a court order.
Dating should be a fun and exciting process in which you can get to know your potential life-long partner or at least someone nice with who you like to spend your time. If it doesn’t feel that way, it’s probably not worth it.
Remember that there are important security threats attached to the information we share online, so take the necessary steps to protect your privacy. Never agree to give out your financial details or send money to someone you met online (and stop the conversation with someone who asks).