Online dating has never been so popular – and it’s not hard to see why. Meeting someone you’re compatible with can be tricky at the best of times, but in our current climate, with ‘normal life’ still on hold, it becomes that bit more challenging. More than a third of couples who get married now meet online, and with the prevalence of so many different dating apps, it’s quicker and easier than ever to find a match online.
But while most online dating is hassle free and great fun, it’s important to take some simple precautions – so that you can spend more time enjoying the process and less time worrying about your safety and security. From being aware of scams to taking precautions when meeting someone new, here are 10 tips to stay safe while dating online.
1. Google yourself
It might sound a bit silly, but one of the very first things you should do when you’re online dating – even before you set up your dating profile – is to Google yourself. It’s important to know how much of your personal information is already available to anyone who knows your name. There could be photos or information about you online that you’re not aware of, so it’s key to begin online dating in the know and in control. If there are photos of you on certain websites, or information out there that you don’t want online, you can contact the site in question and ask them to remove your details.
If you use social media, you also need to be aware of how much of what you post is readily available to strangers online. If you have an open profile on Facebook, for example, you might be inadvertently revealing personal information about yourself. Many people have their phone numbers and email addresses posted on their social profiles, and these are things you don’t want strangers knowing. If you have photos posted of your home or car, make sure things like your street name or registration number aren’t visible.
2. Use a reputable dating site
There are so many different dating sites and apps out there that choosing one can feel like an overwhelming task. There are specific dating sites for dog lovers, lawyers, musicians, vegetarians, people who love country walks…the list is nearly endless. If you’re unsure where to start, we’d suggest using one of the better known sites – as not only are they reputable and ensure certain security precautions, they also have a more diverse user base. It’s important to make sure that any dating site you use is a member of the Online Dating Association – which regulates standards across online dating sites, and helps to protect users safety and privacy as much as possible.
We’ve recently launched our very own Rest Less dating site, where you can meet like minded over 50s – so this could be a helpful place to start. To help you feel safer and more assured during your online dating experience, we verify all profiles manually, and we also offer maximum protection to make sure that all your personal information stays private. You’ll also be able to ask us any questions you might have about your dating journey. Or if you fancy exploring other well-trusted options, you might find it useful to have a look at Match.com and eHarmony.
3. Be cautious about what you reveal
When it comes to what you reveal on your dating profile, less is definitely more. Your profile should be an honest reflection of who you are, but you don’t need to include any personal details. Ideally, you should never reveal your full name on your dating profile. While it’s understandable that you might want to be completely upfront and authentic, you need to be mindful of any details that will make you instantly searchable on Google. As we’ve already seen, making yourself easy to Google is a common way to put yourself at risk online.
While it’s fine to mention the city or town where you live, definitely don’t reveal which street you’re on, or the places you frequently visit. It’s also best not to reveal your full name at this stage. It might seem strange to be chatting to someone – perhaps regularly – and yet not have given out something as simple as your last name, but it’s wise to keep this information to yourself for as long as possible.
If you have your profession listed on your dating profile, make sure you don’t have your employer listed too. While the chances of anyone you meet online coming down to your office uninvited is low, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you have kids, it’s best not to mention their names or share photos of them on your profile – no matter how old they are. If your children are searchable on Google, that could allow someone to trace you, too.
Another important tip is never to use your Facebook profile picture in your dating profile. Someone could potentially use the photo to run a Google image search, locate your Facebook profile, and find out your personal information.
4. Keep conversations on the dating site
A common tactic for scammers is to try to move conversations from the dating site or app to email, text or WhatsApp. They might have a believable reason for why they want to do this – maybe they don’t log into the dating site much, or maybe their subscription is about to come to an end. Whatever their explanation, it’s best to keep your conversations to the dating app for as long as possible – ideally until after you’ve met the other person, and know they are who they say they are.
Dating sites and apps have special systems in place to discover scammers and con artists, and by leaving the legitimacy of the dating app, you’re entering riskier territory. If you really want to move your conversations off the dating site or app, it’s best to at least have had a phone call or video chat with the other person first.
5. Use a Google voice number
Once you’ve been chatting to someone online for a while, you might feel ready to move the conversation off the dating platform. But at the same time, you might also feel a little bit wary about giving out your personal phone number – especially if you’ve ever had anyone bother you via phone before. But luckily, there is a way you can communicate with someone while still keeping your personal phone number to yourself: you can get a free Google voice phone number.
By downloading this app, you can use your phone as normal, and send and receive as many phone calls, video calls, messages and voicemails as you like – without ever giving out your real number. This is a great way to chat more intimately with someone while keeping your personal number secure and, should things not work out, ensuring you won’t be bothered. If you don’t want to communicate with the other person anymore, it’s very easy to block their number through the app too. This way, you can keep your personal number for people you know and trust, and keep your Google voice number to give out to dates.
6. Do your research
Once you’ve been chatting to someone for a while, and have swapped certain details about each other, it’s a good time to do a bit of research on the other person. Once you have their last name, you could do a Google search – because more often than not, they’ll be doing the same for you! If the other person has an open social media account, or a LinkedIn page, check them out – and if they have a website or blog, have a look at it. Someone’s online presence isn’t a window into their soul, but seeing what someone chooses to put online can give you a glimpse of their personality – and if there are any red flags, it might bring them to your attention or give you topics you want to explore with them.
Try not to feel awkward about any of this, or worry that looking someone up online equates to stalking. It’s not about being nosy or snooping, it’s simply about protecting yourself and getting an idea of who the person you’re talking to really is before you meet them.
7. Video chat before meeting
If you’re keen to meet someone in person, it’s always a good idea to video chat with them beforehand. This allows you to get a real look at your date before meeting them, which means you can feel secure they are who they say they are, and aren’t using someone else’s photos. Whether you use FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, or Facebook, there are so many easy ways to video chat these days – have a read of our article on how to video call to find out more.
If you don’t like the idea of video calls, it’s still sensible to chat by phone before the first ‘real’ date. While you won’t be able to see the other person, you’ll still be able to hear them and get a feel for who they are. Plus, it allows you to pick up on certain verbal clues that are often hidden in email or instant messaging, like tone of voice, and whether someone is a good listener.
8. Be wary of profiles that come with a request for help, or seem overly despairing
We all want to think we’re kind people – the type of person who’d be sympathetic to someone who’s been through a lot. But online, it’s best to be wary of sob stories, or people who are instantly very forthcoming about a tough time they’ve experienced. Unfortunately, there are people out there who make up heartbreaking stories in order to elicit feelings from other people with the aim of ultimately scamming them into handing over money later down the line. Sadly, these types of scams are often targeted at online dating users – and the requests for money often don’t come until they have you hooked into their fake persona.
Perhaps their ex-partner took all their money, or they were made redundant, or have just lost their home. It doesn’t matter how believable the story is – if anyone you meet online asks you for money, gifts, or anything of value, it should be an instant flashing red flag. You should report any requests you receive for money to the dating site you are using so they can look into the profile and help protect others.
Similarly, if anyone is making you feel uncomfortable, making premature declarations of love, or asking questions you don’t want to answer, this is another red flag. It’s always best to take things slow when dating online. If someone is pursuing you and you feel uneasy, don’t be afraid to end things right away and block them. Making someone feel uncomfortable isn’t acceptable in real life – and it’s not acceptable online, either.
9. Prioritise safety when meeting
Once you’re sure you’re ready to meet with someone in real life, it’s important to follow some key rules. First, tell someone you trust where you’re going, when, with whom, and when you expect to be home. It’s a good idea to agree to a time after the date for your friend to check in on you, or you to check in with them. This way, if the date doesn’t go the way you expect, there’ll be someone looking out for you from the get-go. If you feel worried about this, you can also turn on location sharing on your phone, so a friend or family member can see where you are.
The second important rule is to pick where you’re going with your date very carefully. In some ways, this is just common sense – for example, going on a remote hike with someone you don’t know will always be a bad idea. But even if you feel you’d like to be somewhere private with your date, you should always ensure you meet in a public place. This can be anywhere – a cafe, an ice rink, a library – but it should be somewhere where you aren’t completely alone. That way, if you feel uncomfortable, or want to leave, there will be people around to help.
If your date offers to pick you up, always say no. It might seem romantic, but ultimately allowing someone to pick you up just means you’re getting into a car with a complete stranger (and in a very different context to getting a taxi). Equally, no matter how well the date went, it’s advisable not to let your date drive or even walk you home. Not wanting your date to know where you live might seem a bit paranoid, especially if the date went well, but it’s still better to err on the side of caution and keep your home address private – at least until you’ve met more than once.
10. Go with your gut
If you’re experiencing any feelings of discomfort or hesitancy, or something just feels off, don’t ignore it. Intuition exists for a reason, and if you feel uneasy about someone, whether you’ve met them in person or not, it’s usually worth trusting your gut feelings. Entering into a relationship should feel like a natural, positive decision, and you should never have to convince yourself that the other person is right for you. No matter how charming the other person is, and no matter how eager you might be to meet someone, if your gut is telling you things aren’t right, listen.
If you feel you have good reason to doubt someone, or they’ve made offensive remarks, you might want to consider reporting them. Most dating sites and apps have security features that allow you to report problems, or talk to someone in customer service. If you think someone is trying to take advantage of you, or you feel harassed or bothered, it’s important to remember that you probably won’t be the only one – and by reporting the other person, you’re doing the whole online dating community a favour.
Online dating can be fun and exciting, and there are countless couples who have met their partners this way. While we certainly don’t want anyone to read this article and be put off online dating, or feel there’s too much risk attached – for most things in life it’s better to be safe than sorry, and online dating is no exception.
As long as you take the necessary precautions, take things slowly, and use your common sense, you’ll hopefully have a positive experience with online dating, enjoy yourself, and make some meaningful connections. You can find out more about online dating by visiting the relationships and dating section of our site.