As a dating coach, I can tell you that online dating is more popular than ever, with more than 40 million Americans having looked for love online. Unfortunately, even with the many online dating success stories we hear, there are many online dating red flags to look out for, which is why online dating safety tips are so important.
Is Online Dating Safe These Days?
My friend Rebecca is a fan of online dating — it’s how she met her awesome boyfriend. That said, she has some stories. She once gave a guy on OKCupid her cell number. At 1 am that night, he texted her, “I’m at a bar 2 blocks from your house. Drinks?” She’d never told him where she lives, but when someone has your phone number, they can use the web to learn your address. Yikes! (The guy was harmless, if clueless.)
According to the F.B.I, about 10% of all dating profiles are fake, and research shows that half of all online daters are already in relationships. (Their cheating hearts!) Women face the most serious dangers, ranging from stalking to sexual assault. About 1 in 10 convicted sex criminals use dating apps.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try online dating, of course. Online dating is like riding a roller-coaster: it’s fun, fast-paced and exhilarating, but there are risks. Take precautions because there’s nothing more important than your safety. So buckle up, keep your hands inside the car at all times and enjoy the ride. Just remember to use online dating safety tips and look out for online dating red flags so you can have fun without risking your safety.
Here are 10 online dating safety tips and eight red flags to look for that are suggested by a dating expert.
Online Dating Safety Tips
One of the best ways to have good experiences with online dating is to follow some important safety tips.
Here are ten safety tips to keep in mind while you date.
10.) Favor Trusted, Relationship-Based Sites Over Hook-Up Apps
The potential for sexual assault is a dating concern, especially for women seeking men. While no dating site can guarantee one’s physical safety, relationship-based sites such as Match and eHarmony are the best bets.
Why? According to experts, the kinds of men who commit violence against females are drawn to women who appear promiscuous. Therefore, sites that cater to casual sex are more likely to appeal to these unsavory men.
If you’re not sure which dating websites you’d like to use, read our guide to the best online dating sites. By using one of these sites that are more for establishing relationships than hooking up, you can stay a little safer.
9.) Run a Background Check
An OpinionMatters survey found that 53 percent of online daters lie on their profiles. A background check can yield valuable information about a dating prospect.
You can verify where the person lives, if they’ve ever been arrested and whether or not they’re lying about their name, age or profession. For $5 a month, you can subscribe to WhitePages, a “people search” service. If you have your potential date’s phone number, you can make sure they’re who they say they are by learning their full name, home address and real age. Check out Top 5’s list of background-check services.
8.) Get an Alternate Phone Number to Protect Your Identity
In online dating, it’s common to get the other’s phone number and then set up the date by text message or phone call. But there are good reasons not to hand over your digits right away. When someone has your phone number, search technology lets them learn your full name and where you live, potentially putting your privacy and safety in jeopardy.
You have a couple of options. You can simply keep messaging each other on the dating site until you’ve met them and feel comfortable sharing your number. Or you can get a Google Voice number. A free app, Google Voice gives you an alternate number to use on your phone, letting you text and call without revealing your real number. If you decide to block someone’s number, the app makes it easy to do.
7.) Meet in a Public Place for the First Date
Make sure your first meeting with a new person occurs in public. If the date goes well, there’s plenty of time to invite your new squeeze over to your place. You’ll know quickly if you feel a sense of trust as well as physical chemistry.
But you are meeting a stranger, after all, so it’s wise to meet in public for the first date. This will make it easier to leave or find help if the date gets uncomfortable or dangerous. This is one of the online dating safety tips that can make a big difference in your safety if anything goes wrong.
6.) Don’t Offer Your Full Name Right Away
This is one of the online dating safety tips that a lot of people don’t think about. Avoid giving out your full name until after you’ve met and you feel comfortable doing so.
When someone has your first and last name, it’s easy to learn where you live and work, not to mention all kinds of personal details. Stick to first names only until you’ve built more trust.
5.) Drive Yourself to the First Date
Sure, getting picked up for a first date sounds old-fashioned and romantic, but until you better know the other person, think twice before getting in a car with them or letting them know where you live.
Instead, either drive yourself to the date, get a ride from a friend or take public transportation.
4. Go Easy on the Booze
Limit yourself to two drinks on the date: one to settle your nerves, and perhaps a second if you’re having fun.
Staying safe while online dating is about making good choices, and when it comes to alcohol, less is more. This is one of the online dating safety tips that might seem like a bummer, but you don’t want to diminish your ability to trust your instincts or use your brain to get out of a bad situation.
3.) Consider Carrying Pepper Spray
Even if you never have to use it, pepper spray can give you peace of mind — and can help you protect yourself if necessary.
Pepper spray is legal in most states, but check your individual state’s requirements to know what varieties you’re allowed to have.
2. Use the Buddy System
Before the first date, let a friend know the name and location of your meet-up spot, and agree to a check-in time to make sure you’re safe.
In the worst-case scenario, your friend will know when to worry and where to look for you. The chances are low of anything bad happening — apart from learning that he’s two inches shorter and 20 pounds heavier than his profile says. However, this is one of the online dating safety tips you should always use just in case you need help.
1.) Trust Your Instincts
When it comes to dating, you know yourself better than anyone. So trust your instincts — that little voice inside of you. Your gut rarely steers you wrong.
If you feel like anything seems off, it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is one of the most online dating tips because your instincts can sense danger before you might see obvious signs of it.
Online Dating Red Flags
Part of staying safe when online dating is watching out for red flags. Even if you’ve followed all the previously mentioned online dating safety tips, you might still encounter red flags. Here are eight online dating red flags to watch out for.
8.) Copy-and-Paste Openers
This is one of the online dating red flags that doesn’t seem suspicious, but be careful with this one. You can tell if someone spent a minute crafting an opening line to catch your attention — something specific and flirty, like, “Bonjour. I see you love Paris. Where are you jetting off to next, world traveler?”
But using a cookie-cutter opening line — “You are gorgeous! How’s your day?” — likely means they’re mass-messaging an all-purpose opener and didn’t even bother reading your profile. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are dangerous, this online dating red flag shows that they may not be that interested in getting to know you as a person.
7.) Sending Women Pics of Their Junk
This one is self-explanatory. Men still do this!
A related (if less offensive) online dating red flag: too much sexual innuendo too soon.
6.) Going Quiet/Texting at Weird Hours
If you you’ve been messaging and they go quiet for a day or two, only to text you again at 3:45 am, watch out. This is one of the online dating red flags you should be aware of.
This sporadic messaging might be because they’re in a relationship and unable to message you at normal times. Remember: half of online daters are already in a relationship, so be cautious.
5.) Messaging You Repeatedly When You Don’t Reply Right Away
Beware of over-eager texting, which is a sign of severe neediness and another of the biggest online dating red flags.
You don’t reply right away and your phone suddenly blows up like this: “Did you get my messages?”, “Are you there?”, “Did you lose your phone?”, “Are you blowing me off?” While maybe not one of the online dating safety tips to follow, avoiding these kinds of people can help you avoid needy, demanding people who aren’t that interested in a long, fulfilling relationship.
4.) There’s Only One Profile Photo
…and it shows a near-perfect physical specimen. Odds are, this is a fake online-dating profile, making just one profile photo one of the biggest online dating red flags.
Also, when little or nothing is written in the description, it’s probably a scam. Real online daters upload several photos and put effort into the “about me” section. People who want meaningful relationships and will support you in following online dating safety tips want to put detail in their profile to give themselves a better chance at starting a real relationship.
3.) They Warn “No Drama or Playing Games”
Watch out for anyone (mostly men seeking women) who writes “no drama” or “not a game player” on their profile. Besides being useless, soul-crushing clichés, these phrases suggest that he’s projecting — he’s all about drama and game-playing.
Also, notice phrases like “I need” or “I won’t tolerate,” along with frequent use of “can’t” or “won’t.” These are signs of someone who in real life is negative at best or possessive at worst, making these kinds of phrases big online dating red flags to watch out for.
2.) Ivy League Degree but no Job
If they say they went to, say, Harvard, yet have no job, they’re lying about one of those two assertions. (Hmm, wonder which one.)
While not having a job isn’t necessarily one of the online dating red flag (layoffs, temporary unemployment and disability can happen to anyone) claiming a prestigious education with no proof is suspicious.
1.) They Ask for Money
Scammers create fake profiles on both free sites but also some of the biggest online dating apps. Their goal? To build trust and an apparent connection, then ask you for money by claiming there’s a medical or travel emergency.
In 2016, online daters gave $220 million to these catfishers, the FBI reports. If someone you’ve never met wants money, they’re scammers. Report it to the dating site and to the Feds.
Online dating can be a wonderful way to meet people and you can have many great first dates (and maybe second dates if you don’t say one of the things you should never say on a first date), so don’t let the danger scare you away from potentially find a connection. Just follow these online dating safety tips, avoid the online dating red flags.