I first ventured into the world of online dating at 28. It was right after a break-up and I was tired of sobbing in between bites of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. With trepidation, I set up a profile to meet a potential match. I hyped myself up, selling myself like a used car dealer whose home was up for foreclosure. It was easy. Not only because I’m confident, but also because I could say anything I wanted to and the public would take my word for it. With the power of editing, the backspace button on my keyboard, and a few taps, I could become anyone that I wanted to be.
Read Related: Common Sense Dos and Don’ts of Online Dating
That’s what’s terrifying about online dating. In good faith, we believe that uploaded photos are current, not from 10 years ago. We trust that she’s single or that he doesn’t have a criminal record. We welcome winks, emails, and soon enough, phone calls and dates. We place ourselves in potential danger, hoping for a love connection. And that can be dangerous.
Mary Kay Beckman, a former Match.com member, learned this the hard way. Beckman was stabbed ten times by Wade Mitchell Reilly, a man she dated briefly in September 2010 after meeting him on Match.com. They only knew each other eight days before she ended their relationship but Reilly didn’t take it lightly. Four months later, he broke into her home and stabbed and beat her. Mary was hospitalized for months and accrued a bill of $400,000 due to needing extensive plastic surgery. She is now suing Match.com for $10 million dollars, claiming the site doesn’t do enough to screen violent users.
Of course Beckman’s case was extreme, and your online dating experience is unlikely to turn out this way. I have many friends who met their partners via online dating sites like Match.com, EHarmony, and even free membership sites, like OK Cupid and Plenty of Fish. You just have to be smart about what you say and note red flags. Here are some online dating safety tips from Scambook, the leading online complaint resolution platform:
- Don’t provide too much information about yourself.
- Use a prepaid credit card to protect primary bank accounts.
- Be wary of downloads. If a dating site asks to download and install software, take this as a red flag.
- Don’t send or receive gifts (or money) prior to meeting. This can be used to build fake “trust.”
- Tell someone about your date, including location and the time of your date.
- Meet in a public place.
I also want to provide some online dating safety tips that worked for me at 28.
- On your first date, meet for a coffee and/or tea instead of dinner and drinks. The date will be shorter. If you like his or her energy and feel safe, then you can have a longer date the second time around.
- Speaking of drinks, don’t go out for drinks on the first date. When we drink, we are more vulnerable, less attuned to our instincts, and often times more trusting.
- Go out early afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday. This lends to a safe coffee or brunch date. It is also daytime!
- Don’t have your date pick you up or drop you off. Meet him at the location. He doesn’t need to know where you live yet.
- Instead of giving him your real number, sign up for a Google Voice number. That way you can still communicate without giving out personal information. If it doesn’t work out and he is harassing you, you can always delete your Google Voice number.
- Don’t add him on any social media platform. That goes for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and anything else you can think of. We share truly personal information on these social media sites, including photos, events we are attending, and location check-ins. The less he knows and has access to in the beginning, the safer you will be.
So, go online with these tips in mind. And remember, if it reads too good to be true, it probably is!