A Guide to Dating Safely Online
What You Need to Know
- The bigger, better known sites are usually more secure and also have a bigger database, increasing your chances of finding a good match.
- Make sure your computer has the basic protection of anti-virus software and use strong passwords when creating an online account.
- It is better to use the dating services messenger system than email, at least until you have a solid reason to trust someone you may have met.
- Never reveal too much information about yourself and report threatening behaviour to the dating service.
- Look for signs that people may not be being honest with you, such as only communicating at odd hours, or not having a picture in their profile.
- If you decide to meet up with somebody, be sure to inform friends of your whereabouts.
- All online dating scams have one thing in common, a plea for money. Never send money to somebody you’ve met through an online dating service, until you’ve met them and have a fully fledged relationship.
Choosing The Right Site
Online dating has become increasingly popular in recent years, with millions of people now starting relationships with people they have met online. If you are interested in meeting someone this way then the first thing you need to do is decide which sites to sign up to. There are hundreds of dating sites out there, many of which cater to a specific niche.
If you are looking for a partner with specific attributes, such as particular ethnicity or religious faith, there are many specialised sites that may have a better chance of fulfilling your needs. Likewise, whilst most of the biggest names in online dating deal mainly with heterosexual matches, providing the option to search for same sex matches, there are many sites that focus exclusively on gay and lesbian relationships.
However, whatever you’re after, there a number of features you should look for in a trustworthy dating site.
Size and repute are two of the most important things to look for. The bigger and better known sites have larger data bases, increasing your chances of finding a like minded partner. On top of this, going with a site with a good reputation will help put your mind at ease when giving a site your personal information, much of which you may not want to be shared with third parties.
Before you begin exploring the world of online dating, ensure your computer is secure. It is advisable to have good anti virus software and a dependable firewall installed. You should also make sure your computer is secured with a strong password, not only for your computer, but also for your email address and your online dating profile. All three should be different.
To make sure you pick a strong password it is worth looking up the common formulations used for passwords and avoiding them, as they can easily be guessed at or hacked. You should avoid using dictionary words, as this throws off software that hackers use to try and guess passwords. Mixing up upper and lower cases with numbers also makes it harder for your password to be compromised.
Try to make the password as random as possible. It may be harder to remember, but avoid making it something linked to your identity. Choosing you date of birth, for example would be a bad idea. One good method is to use alpha numeric acronyms. For example the sentence “I wrote off my 2nd car in 1986” becomes “IWOM2CI1986”, a good, strong password.
If you have a security question in place which will allow the password to be reset, make sure it is something that only you know the answer to. For example, if on a public social media site somebody has made a comment mentioning your dog’s name and your security question is “name of my pet” a hacker could, after a little snooping, reset your password, obtain your emails and take steps toward stealing your identity.
Creating Your Profile
Your profile should include a short summary about yourself, your interests and perhaps a photograph. You may be reluctant to include a photograph and that is your decision, but bear in mind that you are likely to attract more people to your page if you have a picture. Don't be tempted to write an essay about yourself. If you reveal everything in your profile then what will you discuss on your date? Be careful not to go too in-depth and avoid mentioning your place of work or exact location. If you do decide to include a photograph then make sure it is an honest representation of yourself.
When choosing an online nickname avoid including your actual name and make sure the tag you choose reflects what you're after. Don’t reveal personal information in your profile (in most cases the service will not allow you to anyway.)
Guard Your Email Address
Most good online dating services allow you to communicate using messages through their site. Do not be tempted to give out your email address or mobile number. By communicating through your private email account you may unwittingly reveal your full name or you may have a digital signature, which contains your address beneath it. Using the messenger service will help you maintain some distance in the early stages of getting to know someone.
Be careful, if you do want to exchange emails then consider creating a new account for this purpose. Also be wary of scams. Even if you have built up a strong online relationship with someone, never send them money.
If your experience with online dates is going well and you have established contact with someone you want to meet up with, then make sure you do it safely. Remember that even when they are being truthful, people on dating websites will always try to present themselves in the best possible light, so you may find that your date doesn't come exactly as advertised. Don't be too disheartened as you never know who you may or may not hit it off with. But do be safe. You should always meet in a public place and tell a friend where you are going to be. If you feel uncomfortable at any point then politely make your excuses and leave.
Travelling To Meet Your Date
If you are planning to meet someone outside your local and need to stay overnight then make sure you book a hotel. It is advisable to figure out what you're going to do before hand. If the evening is not a success you could find yourself in an unfamiliar place with nowhere to stay.
Do not accept a lift from your date or feel you need to let them walk you back to your vehicle/hotel if it is in an empty car park or similar place. It is also advisable to avoid drinking an excessive amount, and be aware that ‘date rape’ drugs are often placed in unattended drinks and, once dissolved, can be impossible to detect.
Unfortunately many online fraudsters target people using online dating services, normally creating a false identity and, after months of convincing their target that they are in love with them, inventing a scenario in which they urgently require money from the target, after which, if they do receive the money, you will never hear from them again.
Here are some brief out lines of some of the most common scams;
African Emergency Scam
A man/woman claiming to be from a western country will form a relationship with you online, earning your respect and trust over a few weeks or months. They will claim to need to go to Africa for a business trip or similar purpose. There, some kind of an emergency will take place and they will ask you to send them money.
This has a number of different incantations but the basic gist is that the scammer has access to a huge amount of money which, for one reason or another, they want to move through your account. However, they will require you to send them some money first, to cover bank fees or some other invented reason.
Money Order Scam
The scammer will contact you claiming, again, to be a westerner working in Africa. They will claim they are being paid in money orders but are having trouble cashing them. They will ask you to cash them and send them the money. They will then send you a money order. This will have a value of maybe £10 but will be doctored to read £10,000. You will be asked to cash this and send money via an irreversible transfer, such as a Western Union wire, only to realise later the money order was fraudulent.
These involve Filipino women asking for money on the basis of various promises or needs, which are invented. They may appeal to the heartstrings by claiming money is needed for a medical emergency, food, rent or education. Alternatively, they may try and entice the victim by asking for money to buy a webcam or to rent a private room in an internet café so as to engage in adult chat.
Another scam involves sending a link to an adult chat room, claiming that it is free and only needs credit card details to verify age. This is not true, you will be charged.
These tend to be similar to the Filipino scams described above except that often a plane ticket to come and see the victim is used as the reason the money is requested.
Sex Trafficking and Kidnapping
Sex traffickers have been known to trap women using online dating services by promising them jobs in their country and then effectively enslaving them once they arrive. The women are normally scared to go to the police, as they are afraid of being imprisoned, having immigrated illegally.
On the other hand men have, on occasion, been persuaded to travel to a foreign country to meet a “woman” who has fallen in love with them, only to find a gang of kidnappers waiting for them at the airport.
As well as being aware of the risk posed by fraudsters, safe online dating also involves keeping an eye out for people who are plain dishonest, whether they are doing it for financial gain, or as a genuine attempt to start a relationship.
There are a number of signs you should look out for that may indicate dishonesty. If they don’t have a photo and are even more cagey about personal information then you’d usually expect, it may be the case that they are already married.
If the person in question is only online at odd hours, their correspondence follows an erratic pattern and they suddenly cut phone calls short, it may be that they are balancing another life, one they don’t want you to know about, with their online activities
- You can read examples of scammer’s messages here if you are worried messages you have received fit the pattern.
- Read this guide to quirky date ideas before meeting up with your online match.
- Make sure you express yourself eloquently with this guide to writing an online profile.
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