In the modern world of dating, couples are connecting digitally. Nearly 30% of U.S. adults ages 18–24 use online dating sites or apps — a percentage that has tripled in the last two years.
Overall, 15% of American adults use these websites, showing that the stigma attached to online dating is disappearing. 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.
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, JDate, 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.
2. Keep Your Contact Information Private
“There’s a difference between being cyber savvy and cyber secure,” says Michael Kaiser, the 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 a Craigslist 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 maximum level 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. Google will search for that image using facial recognition, landmark identification, and photo binary data. If you’re browsing a dating app on your mobile device, use a mobile version of Google Image search.
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.
If you approach online dating with caution, it can be a fun and enjoyable way to experience the dating pool. You’ll find new people you’d never have the opportunity to meet, and you may end up like the 5% of Americans whose long-term committed relationships began online.
*SafeWise has conducted impartial research to recommend sites. Individuals should consider their own needs and best safety practices when deciding on a dating site to use.