How to Date Online Safely

In the modern world of dating, couples are connecting digitally — even more so in light of the coronavirus pandemic.  Before the pandemic began, 30% of all U.S. adults said they have used online dating sites or apps before. Among folks who have never married that number goes up to 52%, and is also higher among adults currently living with a partner at 46%. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 59% of people thought online dating was a good way to meet people, whereas just 44% shared that opinion in 2005.

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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1. Use a trustworthy site

There are 2,500 online dating sites in the U.S., and fraud is on the rise. There are dozens of online dating websites and apps that target college students, so take note even if you live in a safe location.

Take Action: You can often depend on larger, more reputable sites — like Tinder, eHarmony, Bumble, Christian Mingle, OkCupid, and Match.com — to protect your private information. Most of these safe 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.

Take Action: Never post any identifying details on your profile — including your address, phone number, or personal email. Make sure you also limit the information posted on your other virtual platforms. Set your security settings to the private on all your social media accounts and never authorize 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 unsavory personality traits. You may also find out whether or not they are using a fake photo of a model or celebrity.

Take Action: 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.

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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 — Match.com recommends you immediately end the date if your date pressures you to do otherwise.

Take Action: Before you leave to meet a virtual date, 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 behavior that is aggressive or illegal. Most dating sites include the option to block an individual user if your interactions make you feel uneasy.

Take Action: If someone is harassing or extorting you, contact the dating site’s customer service immediately. The Federal Trade Commission encourages anyone involved in a relationship scam to also contact its Complaint Assistant, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, and your state Attorney General.

What you need to know about romance scams

This information was provided to us by the experts at McAfee.

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

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the reported costs of online romance scams jumped 50% from 2019 to 2020, to the tune of $304 million. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of romance scam cases reported tripled.

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 such as Valentine’s Day.

To meet people safely online, especially through social media, McAfee shares three things you can do to limit your chances of getting caught up with a scammer.

1. Go private

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and others give you the option of making 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.

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, or they can be an account designed to spread false information. There are plenty of them too.

3. Protect yourself and your devices

Security software, such as McAfee 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, SSN, bank accounts, credit cards, and other info that a scammer or identity thief may put to use.

Find more online protection tools in our roundup of the best anti-malware apps

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Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past eight. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime reports and spotting trends. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, NPR, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips.

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