Dating online is, with just a little care, quite safe. Key things to remember are: don’t give out your personal contact details too soon or to many people; don’t put information such as your full name or exactly where you live or work in your profile; never give financial information to people (your bank account details or credit card information); don’t identify your children or friends; and don’t say anything in chats or direct messages which could be very embarrasing later on (as in, could be a big problem if the person you’re chatting with threatened to tell someone else).
That sounds like a lot of stuff to keep to yourself, but it is not really. Only the reckless or foolhardy would give their phone number or personal email address to every person who said “hello” on a dating site. At that stage they are just anonymous people, often hiding their own identity really well, and they have not earned your trust. Even when you get to know someone a bit, under no circumstances should you share any financial information (perhaps not ever, even if you end up going out for a year or two!)
Earning your just a little bit of your trust is really important. Remember – if you are looking for a true partner then you are effectively interviewing someone for the most important job of their lives (or at least that is the perspective that they should have!). Ask questions. Get them to tell you about their lives.
Use the dating website’s chat facility, do not dive off into texting or the channels of communication which you use with your friends. If the dating website has a video chat facility, use that instead of Zoom, Messenger or Facetime (you’ll end up disclosing your personal contact details, unless you go totally secret squirrel and open up special accounts just for online dating use).
If you have perhaps a dozen exchanges with them you can pretty quickly get a sense of what sort of person they might be. Importantly, you will probably also get a sense of what their motivations are by going onto an online dating site. When you meet someone new, try to have this sort of chat with them over just a day or two – ideally NOT a long spasmodic “conversation” of one message every few days for weeks on end.
Keep things safe by only sharing your phone number if you know how to easilblock someone (and the same thing with things like Whatsapp and IM). Don’t give out land-line numbers as these are more of a drama to block. If you have a phone call with someone (and you should have at least one call, cetainly before you decide to meet in person), again, don’t give out too much personally identifiable information. Just see if there seems to be some thing in common with them. Finish the call by being polite and unless you are sure that you want to meet them, suggest you continue to chat online for a bit.
Next, to keep things safe, you might agree to have a video chat. If you do, again try to use accounts where you can block people or which you won’t mind abandoning and stopping using if things become a problem. (Remember, the more people you share your details with, the more likely it is that one of them could be a problem.) With video chat, just be careful what is in the background. Remember that you will both probably be peering at the place the other person is speaking from, looking for clues about their life. Also remember that people can screen-save for later analysis. If you they will be able to see out of your front window would a local person be able to figure out exactly where you live? Are there any cars or number plates visible?
Also, no matter what they might say or send to you, do not be tempted to share revealing pictures of yourself or show too much flesh. If they are not really a nice person (or get upset with you later on, for some reason), they might want to get some form of “revenge” or embarass you somehow. Trust people only so far. There are a few nutters out there, even though most people you’ll meet are nice and decent.
When it comes to meeting in person, again keep things safe by only meeting in a public venue such as a cafe, pub or coffee shop. Don’t be tempted to make the first meeting something grand and elaborate. A gastro-pub around meal time can be a nice option – only set up with them that you’ll meet for a drink, perhaps for half an hour, and set up that you’ll each pay for yourselves. If you like each other, then perhaps have a light (inexpensive) lunch or something with them, otherwise just say you have to be somewhere else and politely say good bye. Again, to keep it safe – if there is little or no money involved then little has been lost if you don’t hit it off, and there should be no confusion or feeling of obligation either!
In terms of the mechanics of meeting your online date, then try to get to the meeting place under your own steam; drive if possible, so that you can leave the same way. For safety, it is fairly common practice for the woman to stay in the car and phone her date at the meeting time, to check that they have arrived. If they have arrived, go into the venue and look for the person you are expecting to meet. If you can’t recognise them …. well you just learned something and should probably leave.
While to some people this will all sound very cautious, just remember that the chances of meeting the right person first time are very slim. If you have been chatting months and months before arranging to meet, then there is a danger of feeling obligated somehow to enter a relationship with someone who – in person – you feel is not really for you. So, most people try and meet a number of people within a month or two of joining a website. Online dating IS a bit of a numbers game, and it is only safe and sensible to give yourself a choice. Checking out what may seem quite a lot of people improves your chances of making a good decision and reduces the risk of poor choices.
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