Meeting strangers from the internet used to be something your parents warn you not to do. However, in this day and age, online dating has become increasingly popular. More than 50 percent of Americans have tried online dating and more than half of the American population knows someone who met their spouse online. While the stigma attached to finding a significant other online is gone, the safety hazards are not. Here are some tips to stay safe the next time you reply to the cutie who messaged you.
1. Make sure they are really who they say they are
Do they match their profile photo and description or are they pretending to be someone they're not? Take advantage of the same technology you guys used to connect. Even if your date is not internet famous, a simple Google search can bring up their Facebook or LinkedIn. If your don't find results, don't panic. Try taking your date's profile picture and reverse image-search it by right clicking on the image, hitting copy URL, and pasting it into the “Search by Image” search bar on Google Images or www.tineye.com. This will quickly expose your date if they are using a stock image, a.k.a. faking their appearance. Another quick way to verify is to suggest a video chat before meeting.
2. Let someone know about your plans.
Before you two meet up, tell a family member or a friend where you are going, how you are getting there and back, and the approximate time your date will end. If your plans change, you can always update friends and family. It is also a good idea to have a back-up communication plan, so that you can contact them if your phone dies or is lost.
Carry a physical copy of your confidante's number with you.
3. Add your date on Facebook.
If you two have been talking for a while and finally decide to meet, add them on some form of social media. See if you have any mutual friends, if what he told you about his work/education/and life is true. If he adds you from an account he made either a week or a few days ago, an account with 0 friends or very few friends, an account with no pictures, something is off, and you should be careful. Also make sure that your own account does not reveal too much personal information like your phone number, your address, or your family members’ whereabouts.
4. Meet in a public place.
Never ever meet someone for the first time inside a private place - especially their apartment. Find a public place where people are around. Coffeeshops, parks, and museums are great options. This way, not only are you safe if the person tries to assault you, but it also helps prevent them wrongly accusing you of something.
Also, do not bring the person back to your home until you get to know each other better. It may seem extra neurotic, but people get scammed all the time by online “daters” who take advantage of their vulnerability from the new relationship. Your date may seem charming and friendly, but that can easily be fake. If your date insists on meeting somewhere like a sketchy neighborhood, a random street far from where you live, or a hotel room – ditch him. You never if someone might have an alterior motive, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
Online dating is a great way to meet new people who you might not meet or speak to in real life. It has become one of the most common ways to find a new relationship. However, it is important to keep in mind the aforementioned safety tips so you don't go out with a predator. Because online dating is becoming increasingly common, scammers, stalkers and predators will continue to be around.
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