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Dating - Staying Safe
Safe with Online Dating:
Fact Versus Fiction
James Houran, spokesperson for Online Dating Magazine
most things in life, online and offline dating involves
risk. But most of the time, the risks associated
with online dating are under your control or at least
your direct influence. This month I want to review
some of those key safety lessons. You might assume
that these are all common sense or at least old hat
by now. Not necessarily so. For whatever reason, the
media continues to publish negative stories about online
dating right along with success stories. Being aware
of the risks is a good thing in the long run, and sometimes
people don’t follow common sense guidelines.
On the other hand, while it’s wise to have a
balanced view on any topic, I have to wonder if many
of the negative reports about online dating in the
media are “forced” to
some extent. What I mean is whether some stories
are intentionally or unintentionally exaggerated or
sensationalized just to make a good story. Or perhaps
the media is simply regurgitating or responding to
fear mongering or press releases that are spewed by
certain sources for personal gain. After all, online
dating success stories are rather common – and
hence passé – so negative
stories offer something new and controversial to
present to readers and viewers.
track record of online dating makes one fact crystal
clear: online dating is generally very safe. Don’t believe
any hype to the contrary. In fact, people apparently
are quite vigilant when using dating websites, and
I don’t think it’s overreaching
to say that consumers are better at managing their
own safety than handing that job over to the online
dating sites. That doesn’t mean that online dating
sites have no responsibility in assuring their products
and services meet a reasonable level of quality – such
as reviewing daters’ profiles for compliance
with decency laws, investigating customer complaints
on other users and reporting criminal activities
to the authorities. But remember, no online
dating site can guarantee safety. No site or dating
service (online or offline) can or should even imply
inherent safety. That’s what
we call a “false sense of security” – plain
than banking on the safety features of online dating
sites, try taking matters into your own hands. The
best way to protect yourself is not by relying solely
on unreliable background checks or using only paid
online dating sites or compatibility testing or taking
at face value sites or services that use reputation
management or feedback systems (users giving testimonials
pro or con about other users). All of these tools
can be part of your vigilance, but don’t trust
any of them completely. They all can be gamed to
some degree and hence are not reliable assurances
of safety. No, the best way to be safe when online
dating is to assume that everyone with whom you correspond
is a potential threat and act vigilantly in return. In
other words, keep your guard up with everyone at
all times and that way no potential threat will go
so simple, but few online daters actually seem to
take this stance. It may seem negative or pessimistic
to some, but to me it’s a pragmatic stance.
There are other lessons as well… and these
lessons should be learned and practiced in turn
1: Choose Your Online Dating Site Very, Very Carefully
safety program actually starts well before you post
your profile or respond to that first wink or email.
Not all online dating sites were created equal – some
users make it clear that some have questionable business
practices or terrible customer service. These types
of sites are not on your side. They’re as much
predators as any individual you could come across
using a dating site. Only sign up with a service
carefully read the Terms & Conditions, understand
their billing if it’s
a paid site, talked with others who may experience
with the site and checked out their reputation with
many Internet sources like Online
Rip Off Report or the Better
2: "Ease on Down the Road"
you’re first getting
acquainted with someone it’s best to get to
know them gradually by communicating via email and
IM. Be on the lookout for any inconsistencies in
your correspondence with someone or in their online
profile – especially
when they’re corresponding in real time such
as with IM or over the phone. If you feel someone
is lying or is not who they portray themselves to
probably right. Ask them to clarify their intentions
in communicating with you and be prepared to talk
honestly about your intentions as well. Remember,
one advantage of online dating is that it allows
you to collect information and carefully think through
your dating decisions, and this is something one
can’t do when meeting someone
at a bar!
warning signs include someone who:
demeaning or inappropriate remarks
inconsistent information about his/her age, appearance,
marital status or employment
to provide a recent photo or series of photos
to talk on the phone as the relationship develops
Lesson 3: Protect Your Privacy
you use a work or personal email account, your name
may appear on any email you send. To get around this,
we suggest you get a free email account (e.g. from
Yahoo.com or Hotmail.com) and avoid using your last
name. You may even want to use a different first
name – try making up a fun
nickname like “Swimmaster”. This nickname
doesn’t need to be your screen name.
online dating sites provide you with an email account
or IM features which allow you to protect your anonymity
when communicating with other members. Other services
also offer anonymous phone numbers for calling people
you’ve met. These are really useful tools.
If you have been communicating with a potential date
online and you have established enough trust to feel
comfortable pursuing the relationship, the next logical
step is to speak with them over the phone or via
webchat or webcam features. Speaking with someone
like this can give you more information about their
social and communication skills – as
well as a better idea of your connection and possibly
chemistry (Do you like the sound of their voice?
Does the conversation flow or is it a struggle?).
tips for maintaining your privacy via telephone include:
a payphone when you first talk with them
calling from home, dial *67 to prevent your phone
number from showing up on caller ID.
if you use your cell phone, then your number can
be displayed on Caller ID.
wireless services and/or cell phones offer a feature
which hides your number when you make a call. Check
with your wireless service to inquire about privacy
Using an instant messaging service
is a fun and efficient way to communicate with potential
dates. Before you decide to use an instant messaging
service on your home or work computer be aware of
what information is displayed. Is your name displayed
online? If so, you may want to make sure that you
have an IM account with a nickname and no last name.
Some IM services also offer blocking and parental
controls. Review the privacy information available
from your messaging service to find out how you can
4: Think for Yourself
people can develop trust with others fairly quickly
online, due to the greater amount of self-disclosure
that takes place in email and chat communication.
As a result, online relationships may develop at
a faster pace than other romantic relationships.
However, you may feel more comfortable proceeding
slowly - determining the pace of the relationship
is up to you. You decide when you’re ready
to meet and when your gut tells you its right. Avoid
letting anyone pressure you into a situation in which
you are not comfortable. Set your boundaries and
stick with them – and
always trust your instincts. If you’re uncomfortable,
there’s probably a good reason.
Use discretion when deciding
what information to reveal about yourself. Don’t give out your
last name, where you work, or what neighborhood you
live in. It may be fine to reveal that you live in
a big city, like Chicago, but avoid giving any more
details, like “I
live on the Northeast corner of 14th . . .”
5: Plan Meetings in Person Very, Very, Carefully
deciding to meet in person, it’s a good idea
to have several email and phone conversations with
a potential date. In addition, the following questions
can help you gauge when you are ready to meet offline:
your phone/email conversations, do you feel you can
you feel confident that s/he is who they say there
you believe there’s
potential for a relationship with this person? (if
not, check your motives for meeting?)
do your instincts tell you? If you’re not ready,
what else do you need to feel comfortable meeting
you’re ready to meet someone
in person, choose a public place such as a café and
coffee shop, preferably during the day. Make
sure you meet in an area that is both familiar and
comfortable to you. You may want to keep the first meeting casual
and brief (e.g. an hour). Use the following guidelines
before making plans to meet:
your own car or transportation. Don’t offer to pick
up your date or let them pick you up.
a friend or family member about your plans and where
you’ll be on your date.
can have a friend sit at a nearby table in a coffee
shop or café to keep an eye on you, if you
would feel more comfortable.
a cell phone with you on the date for emergencies.
leave your food or drink unattended.
for the date to end, leave on your own. Avoid going
straight home and drive to the store or another public
me now to send in additional safety tips that you’ve
found useful in actual dating situations. I’ll
publish your ideas in a follow up piece on safety. Safety
is your responsibility, so never let your guard down.
This doesn’t mean you have to give up having fun
while online or continually doubt the sincerity of others.
Keeping your head in matters of the heart simply helps
to ensure that you’re protected as much as possible
from negative experiences and disastrous dating situations.
Stay optimistic – definitely! But also remember
to stay alert.
» Online Dating Safety Tips
» 12 Tips for Safe Online Dating
> Perfectmatch.com - The best approach to find the one.
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