Win the Online Dating Game by Staying Safe
An expert reveals tips for protecting yourself as your would-be romance moves from digital to 3D
Online dating: Everybody’s doing it. It’s so run-of-the-mill that couples are no longer sweeping their “how we met” stories under the rug. But before you rendezvous with that would-be prince charming from Match, eHarmony, OkCupid, JDate or OnlyFarmers (yes, a dating website for farmers!) in 3D, ground yourself in some important realities.
First, don’t expect your date to look exactly like his or her photos. But more important, realize that online dating poses some risks. Julie Spira, author of “The Rules of Netiquette” and “The Perils of Cyber Dating,” offers this advice for protecting yourself.
Don’t advertise your bod. Think twice before posting that shirtless shot or bikini pic on your profile. Showing too much skin “sends a message that you might be looking for casual sex,” Spira says. You can still wear something sexy, just not sexual, she notes.
Think like a PI. Private investigators know how easy it is to track down a person, including where they live, with the help of just a few personal details. It’s fine to share your favorite books, foods or movies along with your dream vacation and hopes for the future. Just don’t share identifying info — your last name, your birth date or even seemingly innocuous information like where you went to college or the neighborhood you live in. Create an email address that doesn’t contain your last name and use that to communicate.
Do some digging. Googling your date if you know their full name isn’t creepy, it’s shrewd. You’d be surprised by the amount of info you can find out about a person on the Internet (or that someone can find on you). Also find them on Facebook and see if you have any friends in common. (You can do this even if you’re not Facebook friends with them.) Use LinkedIn to see where they work (sure, creeps can work for Fortune 500 companies, but having a legitimate job is certainly better than not). By learning where they work you can check if what they said about their profession is true. Also do a search on the person’s email address and phone number. If the person is a habitual scammer, your search may yield posts from former victims try to blow his or her cover.
If you don’t know your date’s last name — or even if you do — Spira recommends pasting their profile picture into a reverse image search.
Chat them up first. Spira suggests talking on the phone before meeting in person. “If you don’t have any chemistry on the phone, then trust your intuition,” she says. Use your cell phone number — if the match doesn’t work out, you can block their number.
Also, listen carefully — does the person sound like a guy pretending to be a girl? Or a kid masquerading as someone older? If something seems off, it probably is.
Avoid “digital pen pal syndrome.” You’re looking for a mate, or at least a date, not a pen pal. Spend too long in the email stage establishing what feels like an intimate connection with someone you think you know, and you risk bitter disappointment when (and if) you finally meet in person. “Most people aren’t scamming you, but the biggest mistake is not taking that from online to real life as soon as possible,” Spira says.
Meet where the world can see you. Scratch the romantic encounter by the lake or dinner at their house, no matter what delicacies your suitor offers to cook you. And don’t let him or her pick you up at home or work. If you drive, park in a high-trafficked, well-lit space.
Clue some friends in. Inform a few close friends or family members about your date plans. Let them know where you’ll be and share your date’s username, photo and contact info.
Time it right. Spira suggests making plans for happy hour or right after work. “Don’t accept a date for after 9 p.m. because that screams booty call,” she says.
Be booze savvy. If you drink, stick to one.Order your drink from the bar rather than letting your date get it for you, and don’t let it out of your sight. Otherwise your date could drug it.
Have an exit strategy. Many online daters have at least one horror story to share.Give yourself an out in case of a particularly awful date by keeping a friend on call. Ask them to call you if you text an SOS. You can tell your date anything you like about the “emergency” you need to deal with — then excuse yourself politely and make your exit.
Listen to your gut. Spira’s final advice is to pay attention to your comfort level and B.S. meter. “You owe the person nothing,” she says. “If you’re uncomfortable for any reason on a date, get up and leave.”