Online dating safety tips, just like online dating itself, date back to the advent of the internet, when there was no easy way to upload your photos and you had to rely on some obscure description which almost always ended up contrary to reality.
Some of the online dating veterans might remember a phrase used in a chat utility named IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and other web chats abbreviated as ASL (age, sex, location).
It was pretty dangerous to meet someone you knew only from a few text lines and some lo-fi photo where the person’s wearing sunglasses. Most of the time you couldn’t even know if the person is the one who he or she claim to be, or even if he’s really a HE. While the same problem is prevalent, at least nowadays you can see more photos on Facebook or Instagram to determine if the account is fake.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that the need for good online dating safety tips for Tinder and other apps has dwindled. On the contrary, we tend to lower our guard a bit too early, putting ourselves at risk, which can be easily minimized by following our advice on avoiding the dangers of online dating.
What are the dangers of online dating?
Safe online dating requires some caution, just like when dating traditionally. There’s always a portion of trust you put into a stranger – there’s really no other way to start any type of relationship, even more so a romantic one.
Below we will mention the most common dangers of the online dating world.
While catfishing might sound funny, experiencing it is not. Catfishing basically means changing your identity to lure a person into a trap for personal gain. In the best case scenario, it will turn out to be just someone fooling around; for example, a bunch of teenagers on a web chat pretending to be a hot woman.
In a slightly worse scenario, it can be a hot woman with whom you decide to do a video chat only to see that this hot woman has a ding-dong. A worst-case scenario would be deciding to meet the catfish and getting kidnapped.
2. Identity theft
While the dangers of dating include theft, dangers of online dating include identity theft. In this possible scenario, the person gets to learn about you and collects personal information, such as your full name, address, phone number and so on.
Finally, this allows him to gain access to certain services using you as an alias, which most often ends up with you losing money and possibly your reputation when it turns out that “you” are paying for child pornography.
3. Money scam
This type of misfortune includes the infamous Nigerian scam where a prince of Africa writes you and asks for a small financial injection which will return tenfold if you help him to ship his gold to the US or whatever.
The danger of the money scam in online dating is that it’s more subtle and more emotional. It also starts by gaining your trust and then asking for a small favor, which most often can be written in digits.
Phishing is one of those dangers of online dating that often is difficult to notice because as the name implies, you get the bait. It comes in the form of a link that leads to a legit-looking email or social network website where you trustingly enter your logins.
In reality, this information goes straight to the fisherman and allows him to either intercept your account or silently check its contents with you being unaware that something is wrong. This is one of the reasons why using the same password all over can have fatal consequences.
While most adults think that bullying and thus cyberbullying days are long gone as they are no longer kids or teenagers in need of help, the cyberbullying that adults experience might be even worse.
Let’s say you share some personal information with a stranger which suddenly says that this will go public, making you play by his rules. The problem with such cyberbullies is that often they know enough information to cyberstalk you even if you no longer respond to him on the online dating app or website.
Another of the dangers of online dating is cyberstalking that we’ve mentioned above. Cyberstalking is when a person pursues your attention even if you said that you no longer want to have anything to do with him.
Not hearing back, he may write you emails, Facebook messages or even call in the middle of the night. Therefore, it’s important that you keep most of your personal information to yourself until you get to know the person better.
How a VPN can help you stay safe when dating online
First, your IP address can show your real location. For a more tech-savvy person, an IP address can tell more about your exact whereabouts at the city level. This might not be a big thing but can certainly narrow down the search from thousands of John Does to those only living in Buffalo.
With a VPN, your true IP address is effectively masked and cannot be seen by third-parties, turning your connection to the online dating site or app into an encrypted tunnel. This also helps to prevent your data leaking which you might be entering into various websites.
There are many different VPNs. Some excel in connection speed, others are good at unblocking Netflix, but here you would need the most secure option to avoid potential damage from your data exposed to hackers and scammers lurking at the online dating sites and apps.
Therefore, we recommend choosing one of the best VPNs, which can be either NordVPN or ExpressVPN – the two top dogs constantly competing for the #1 position, which gives you the most secure connection you could get.
The 15 best online dating safety tips
After describing the main dangers of online dating, it’s time to give you the online dating safety tips for Tinder, OkCupid, and other apps. Below you will find some advice from us on how to date safely online. We hope they will prove useful to you.
1. Keep your personal information safe
Don’t give out your personal information freely. While most of the time your date already knows something about you – your name, age, and approximate location, there’s no need to give him more by connecting all possible social media apps to your dating app account or adding your workplace, especially if it’s easy to find and with only a few employees.
Don’t give away your real phone number
Because you can text each other using the app, there’s no need to give your phone number. If the person is asking for your phone, you can ask him to give it first. Searching it online should give you an idea if the person has been caught scamming others.
Even if nothing comes up on Google, you have to be aware of the US phone number database leak that allows unsolicited third-parties, such as bounty hunters, to check almost any phone in the US and see it’s owner’s full name and address. If that wasn’t creepy enough, they also see your phone’s location 24/7 within 550 yards.
If there’s a need to call, you can do that with some other app like Google Voice. Google Voice gives you an option to create a phone number to forward your calls just for dating purposes without revealing your true one to someone who might turn out to be untrue. This means you don’t need to buy a burner for each new date.
Don’t give away your email address
While email has gone out of fashion for casual conversations, asking for one should already seem like a red flag, unless you’re into writing each other long romantic letters that just can’t fit into the maximum character limit of Tinder, suffocating your mutual emotions.
The problem with giving your email address is that the person asking might be owning various illegal databases of accounts whose passwords have been compromised. And because it’s probably been a while since you’ve changed yours, better do that now or just create a separate email for online dating conversations.
Don’t give away your full name
Full name – protecting it has become harder as almost everyone has a [email protected] address and you will probably reach someone just blindly shooting an email there. The same is with Facebook who’s been combating fake name profiles for years now.
The most popular dating app Tinder requires a Facebook account for its users. On the one hand, it acts as a safeguard as shady accounts get blocked in the end. On the other, you have your real first name go public, and if you use the same picture on Facebook, searching there will also get the last name real quick. This might lead to some unwanted friend requests and messages, but luckily they can be blocked quite easily.
In case you’re using a dating app or website that’s not connected with Facebook, make sure you keep away your last name. You might even consider using a fake first name or a nickname that might even act as a standout factor for your profile among all the John’s and Mary’s.
If there’s an option to choose a unique screen name, do that, but avoid any controversial or overtly sexual options like babe69 or Long_Richard that might attract unwanted attention from sexual predators.
Don’t give away all of your photos
Searching for your pictures on Google can give away your real name used on social networks. That’s why you should make sure your dating pics are unique or at least not found easily on Facebook or Instagram. Speaking of the latter, there’s no point in adding it on Tinder or other dating apps because the six allowed photos should be enough to show how cool you are.
2. Google yourself before Googling your date
Keeping your personal information safe starts not from the online dating app but from the very first steps on the land of the internet that are sure to leave long-lasting footprints. Therefore, we recommend googling your nickname or full name to check what comes up. Most likely, this is what will also be available for any potential date.
Knowing what’s readily available will save you from getting shocked at how this stranger managed to guess what food you like and offer activities you’d love to do when all this info is readily available in some college Q&A.
3. Check the other person’s photos
If you have doubts the person is who she or he says to be, you can always save a photo and upload it to a reverse image search engine, such as Google Images. You should see if the picture has been posted somewhere else publicly. Since scammers often steal other people’s Facebook images, you will probably find a link to someone else’s profile with a different name. Then you will know it’s time to say “Next!”
4. Do a video chat before meeting in real life
Many dangers of online dating can be avoided if you do a video chat before meeting the person. It’s a great way to see how she actually looks and talks, what is her body language and so on. There’s virtually no excuse nowadays to not be able to do a video chat.
Most of us have a smartphone with a camera and use laptops with a camera. There might be some internet connection problems, but if you’re not thousands of miles away from each other, it should be fine. Therefore, if a person is hesitant about video chatting, always finding new excuses, treat this as a first warning sign.
Of course, you have to be aware that everything you do or say can be recorded on the other side and later used to blackmail you. Therefore, we advise refraining from any sexual innuendos, both verbal and non-verbal.
5. Meet in a public place
Again, even though meeting in an empty park and drinking champagne while stargazing sounds romantic (to some), it’s better save this experience at least for the second date. For the first date, choose a safe public place, during daylight time when possible.
This will show you how the other person acts around people (a good way to see any potential red flags), how he treats the waiters and so on. This also helps to avoid unwanted physical contact and allows to quickly take off if things go south.
6. Pick the meeting place yourself
To avoid any pre-arranged setups where the allies of the possible offender might be waiting inside or outside, choose a place you want. This leaves the person to improvise, and neurotics don’t like if it’s not according to the plan. This might make them irritated, which should be seen even on a chat screen of your online dating website or app.
If the person insists on meeting at that place or changes the place at the last minute, avoid this or choose the alternative yourself. This time the neurotic irritation should be even more visible, saving you from possible dangers.
The best thing would be to not pick a meeting place that’s very close to your home so that the person getting there later wouldn’t have the opportunity of meeting you by chance.
7. Say no to pickups
A bad way to prevent unwanted physical contact is to agree to get picked up by the car at your place. While this might look like a gallant move, best case the guy just loves his car and wants to show it off. In the worst case, he loves his car so much he sleeps inside it and now wants to sleep there with you.
Another bad thing about getting picked up is that person knowing your address from now on. Sometimes it’s too much even for normal relationships that go sour and end up with one of the partners waiting outside for hours to talk things over, and you might not even get to know the true face of this stranger.
8. Say no to walking you home
Also, avoid the romantic walk to home. It’s cool when you’re schoolchildren after prom or two villagers from a five-house Amish establishment, but otherwise, it’s not worth it in the long run – there will be plenty of time for this when you get to know each other.
And there’s no real reason for a person who’s still a stranger to know where you live.
9. Don’t drink too much (even if you’re not driving)
There’s a difference between having a few and having a few too many. Please, steer away from the latter scenario as it makes you more susceptible to revealing your personal info or acting in a way that’s not in your best interest. Also, never leave your drink unattended because there are still cases when your date drugs you and drinking too much would make it difficult to notice this until it’s too late.
If you’re really into some mysterious and dangerous bad-ass you’re dying to meet, write your friend where you’re meeting him and ask to check on the situation.
10. Go home alone
While this sounds like a bit of advice your parents would give you, it’s actually not that bad, considering all the risks. If the other person is still inclined to meet you afterward, there’s much less chance of him wanting to only spend a night with you. And his will to invest again in setting up a second date also lowers the potential risk of an unpleasant encounter.
There’s a bit less risk if you’re taking him or her home where you live with a flatmate that you know will be staying home, but apparently, such an option is not for everyone.
11. Be skeptical of long-distance relationships
While it might seem romantic to find someone from the overseas, to talk at night when it’s daytime in his time zone and vice versa, a long-distance relationship is a good way for scammers to gain your trust and steal your money or personal info when being far away from the US legislation. It’s obvious that after weeks of texting each other and no easy way to meet soon you will start exchanging more personal info, and this is where the scammer shifts to the second gear.
We’re not saying that long-distance relationship can’t work out. It definitely can, and there are success stories worldwide. But these are the stories that more often than not are the exception rather than the rule. We suggest going for these extra-mile chances only when you’ve set your feet in the world of online dating, because spotting the red flags is easier when you’re not wearing those rose-tinted glasses.
12. Use premium online dating services
While paid online dating services can’t guarantee that all its users are normal people looking for a relationship, at least the chances are greatly diminished because you need to give a credit card details to start using them.
Anonymous payment for online dating services is not available most of the time. Also, each canceled account cost money to the scammer, further discouraging from staying around.
13. Have no sympathy for sad stories
More often than not, a tragic story about a dead spouse or an ill cat is just a way to get an emotional response from you, which might lead to irrational behavior, such as transferring money to someone you barely know.
Another scenario used after some time of texting is about your future spouse secretly arriving at your city to meet you and getting stuck in an airport with his credit card declined. Finding yourself excited about this big surprise, you often forget that the person should have plenty of friends and relatives to ask for help instead of bothering his date.
14. Be cautious with sending nudes
While for most people sending your nude picture might be a big no even to your spouse, people do such things to strangers on the web. The problem with those nude pictures is your face. It just shouldn’t be there.
Why? Because suddenly your long-distance paramour might ask for a substantial amount of money or this photo would go public. If you agree and pay, what stops him from asking for more later on? Only your plastic surgery.
To avoid the costs of plastic surgery, just crop your head from the picture or don’t put it in the picture at all. On the other hand, better not send any type of nudes at all, unless you know what you’re doing.
If you have any doubt about the true intentions of your romanticl interest, you can always look up his details – chances are there’s already someone who’s dealt with that person.
15. Don’t lower your guard too soon
Seeing a sweet and charming person in front of you might lead into thinking that nothing could be wrong with the guy. Unfortunately, even if all went well during your first date, you should still keep in mind that it can change for the worse. Remembering the license plate numbers of his car (if you haven’t seen it) would be good, just like giving them to somebody you know.
Getting into a place such as a car should be saved for much later as there’s no way you can’t have fun and go to see places using public transport or a taxi. If you see that the person is becoming nervous or insisting on taking a ride with his car (not yours, for example), see this is as a first warning sign that he might have other intentions.
While you’re driving, at least you can stop and call the police for help.
Learn to detect these most common online dating red flags
Nine times out of ten, experienced online daters can easily tell a person who’s just up to no good. Unfortunately, there’s always that tenth time, reminding us that no matter how good you feel about your flag-spotting skills, you should never forget to go into a red alert mode when dating online. You should notice these online dating red flags when he or she:
- offers to switch to another medium after saying hello on the dating site or app
- asks for any assistance before getting to know you
- wants to take a loan for a house together even though you’re yet to meet in real life
- asks your address to send flowers (this is a red flag in any context)
- answers vaguely to your questions, making himself look vague rather than mysterious
- tells you that others are to blame for her failures
- changes his nickname suddenly and tells you not to worry about it
You should go on alert after seeing one of these online dating red flags. If you see two – it’s time to part ways and probably report the person to the dating website or app that you’re using.
A look at online dating in general
Three years ago, 15% of US adults reported having used online dating services, up from 11% in 2013. And it’s not only the millennials we’re talking about. Online dating sites and apps usage among the 55-64 age group has doubled. Mobile dating apps are still the most popular among the 18-24 age range, with more than 1 out of 5 having tried their luck.
Skeptics often claim that online dating is not effective and might be suited for ONS (one night stands) only. On the contrary, 29% of Americans told Pew Research that they know someone who had a long-term relationship that started online.
Way back in 2005, only 43% went on to meet their dates in real life. But in 2015, this number grew significantly to two thirds. These numbers also show that the overall success rate of online dating has increased.
The disadvantages of online dating
While online dating certainly has its pros – being a fast and easy way to find people based on your preferences – there is more than one widely-acknowledged disadvantage.
First, 23% think these online dating sites and apps are used only by the desperate ones. While it’s true to some extent, the percentage of those who think this shows that’s a minor issue faced by a minority.
Second, almost one third believe that online dating is making people constantly search for alternative dates, not allowing them to settle down. Again, this is true only partially because the same can be said about traditional dating – if you’ve found someone, it doesn’t keep you away from going to a bar to see what’s new on the market.
It’s also possible that the profile photos and description are a bit far from reality. 30% of women ask for help in polishing their profile, while only 16% of men asked their buddies for advice.
The one that’s most important is this: 45% of online dating users agree that the dangers of online dating are greater than in other ways of meeting people. While both genders have the same outlook about these advantages and disadvantages, more than half of women who’ve tried online dating believe it’s more dangerous than the real-life version.
So while online dating has gone far in the last two decades, there are still some pitfalls. That’s why you should follow these best online dating tips to avoid unpleasant meetings in real life.
Is online dating safe?
That’s one of the first questions that people reluctant to try OKCupid, Tinder or other online dating sites and apps want to know. Again, the answer is not a straightforward one. The same online safety concern can be raised about almost any online activity because there are the same technical issues that can turn against you.
Because most of your web traffic is not encrypted, it can be easily read by a third-party which has enough knowledge on how to do that. This includes your account logins and other personal details. That’s why we recommend you use a VPN to help keep you anonymous online until you feel safe.
Is online dating worth it?
Quite a few people are still skeptical about meeting their future spouse on the internet, asking themselves: is online dating worth it? While this is a legit question, the answer usually depends on the balance of your expectations and reality.
Clicking on fit young ladies and letting them know that a couch-potato turning 40 has shown interest in them will bear no fruit most of the time. So this has more to do with the reality and the ability to face it than the actual dating methodology.
What we can say is that it’s worth at least giving online dating a try. If you can’t match anyone on Tinder or even can’t find anyone you like, nobody’s going to judge you. But it may show you the areas where you can improve to attract the people you’re attracted to.
We hope you will find these online safety tips helpful. We wish you all the best in finding your significant other, be it online or real life dating. If you have any questions or comments, do not hesitate and shoot a line in our comments section below!
Karol is an experienced freelance writer, translator, and editor. His creative output covers a wide range of technology topics such as fintech, privacy, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and more. He does not limit himself to just plain articles and writes guides, editorials, think pieces, and reviews.