How to date online safely

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In the modern dating world, couples are connecting digitally more than ever. 1 in 4 Aussie adults said they had used online dating sites or apps before, according to a 2023 report by Choosi. Of these adults, 62% were confident that dating online could help them find a long-term partner. 42% of those who've dated online appreciated the convenience, while 40% said it allowed them to meet people they wouldn't otherwise encounter.  

Though its popularity is rising, you may still wonder if online dating is safe. Connecting virtually has risks, but it can be a fun and low-pressure way to meet potential matches if you practice caution. Here are five tips for how you can have a safe online dating experience.

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What you need to know about romance scams

Online romance scams are becoming more common—and more costly.

According to the Australian government's treasury portfolio, romance scams cost Australians $40.6 million in 2023. Between 2019 and 2023, the amount lost from romance scam cases increased by over $12 million.

And just like a bad ex, it’s safe to say romance scams are not worth the time or money. That’s why McAfee, a global leader in online safety, helps consumers protect their hearts (and wallets) from fraudulent scammers, especially around peak times like Valentine’s Day.

To meet people safely online, especially through social media, McAfee shared three things you can do to prevent getting caught up with a scammer.

1. Go private

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram allow you to make your profile and posts visible to friends only. Choosing this setting keeps the broader internet from seeing what you’re doing, saying, and posting, which can help protect your privacy and give a romance scammer less information to exploit.

For an extra layer of protection, use a virtual private network (VPN) like NordVPN to keep your location and internet browsing private.

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2. Say "no" to strangers bearing friend requests

Be critical of the invitations you receive. Out-and-out strangers could be more than a romance scammer, they could be a fake account designed to gather information on users for purposes of cybercrime. They also can be an account designed to spread false information or an AI-generated account. There are plenty of them, too.

Protecting your personal information is important. Do not hand out personal details to someone you've never met, and ensure your passwords are strong. Consider using a password manager, like 1Password, to keep your passwords under lock and key.

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3. Protect yourself and your devices

Security software, such as McAfee or Bitdefender Total Protection can protect you from clicking on malicious links that a scammer may send you online, while also steering you clear of other threats like viruses, ransomware, and phishing attacks in general. It can look out for your personal information as well, by protecting your privacy and monitoring your email, bank accounts, credit cards, and other info that a scammer or identity thief may put to use.

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How to date online safely

1. Use a trustworthy site

You can often depend on larger, more reputable sites — like Tinder, Harmony, and Bumble to protect your private information. Still, you should always proceed with caution. Most of these online dating services require a membership fee, so choose wisely. Also, once you stop using it, make sure you delete your profile.

2. Keep your contact information private

“There’s a difference between being cyber savvy and cyber secure,” says Michael Kaiser, former executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. Any potential dates will likely run your name through a detailed internet search. They may find your office location on LinkedIn, your address tagged in an Instagram post, or your phone number linked to an online ad.

Never post any identifying details on your profile — this includes your address, phone number, or personal email. Make sure you also limit the information posted on other platforms. Set all your social media accounts to private, and never authorise an app to post your location.

3. Play detective on potential suitors

It’s important to verify your suitor is who they say they are by checking where else their photos are posted. Perhaps their dating profile image is the same as their Twitter profile picture. People tend to be much less filtered on social media sites like Twitter, and you could discover some unsavoury personality traits.

In McAfee's Modern Love study, 42% of people said they have come across fake profiles and/or AI-generated photos on dating websites or apps. Doing your detective work can reveal whether or not the profile is real or AI-generated

Copy the profile picture of a potential match into the Google Images search bar on your computer or use reverse image search on your phone. Google will search for that image using facial recognition, landmark identification, and photo binary data to verify the source of the photo. "Do a reverse-image search of any profile pictures your love interest uses. If they’re associated with another name, or with details that don’t match up, it’s likely a scam," said McAfee CTO Steve Grobman.

4. Be smart about face-to-face meetings

If you’ve clicked with someone and would like to meet in person, choose your location wisely. Never meet at your home or office where they could easily find you again, and never choose a secluded location — immediately end the date if you feel pressured into doing otherwise.

Before you leave, tell a roommate or friend who you are meeting, where you are going, and what time you plan to be home. Consider planning a “safe call”: arrange for a friend to call you during the date to make sure you feel comfortable. Always drive yourself to and from the date, instead of relying on someone you met online for a car ride home.

5. Don’t be afraid to report someone

Respected dating sites will encourage users to report any shady activity. These sites do not tolerate behaviour that is aggressive or illegal. Most dating sites include the option to block an individual user if your interactions make you feel uneasy.

If someone is harassing or extorting you, contact the dating site’s customer service immediately. 

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards

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