From Direct Messaging to Dinner: Online Dating Safety

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In this day and age, we turn to technology for everything. Our phones and computers assist us in ways we never thought possible. From commuting via Uber to ordering takeout with Postmates, websites and apps make life easier and even help people find their soul mates.

Whether you’re an avid dating app user or found your significant other in person, you can’t argue against the rapidly increasing statistics of online dating. The industry’s annual revenue is $1.8 billion, and more than 7,500 online dating websites exist worldwide. The Pew Research Center revealed that 49 million people have tried online dating and 59 percent of users believe it’s a great venue to meet other singles. While millions of people prefer connecting over mobile devices, many still have reservations about the process because of the various vulnerabilities that come with it.

The initial mystique of online dating has its pros and cons. With communicating through mobile devices as opposed to face to face, lying becomes easier and people can exaggerate anything. Adding a few inches to their height or taking a few years off their age is one thing, but compulsive liars can flirt their way into anyone’s inbox.

Scamming is another major issue that occurs frequently with online dating. Singles who open themselves up to others by sharing the intimate details of their lives become vulnerable. Identity theft, fake business ventures or blatant requests for money are among the schemes and complaints that the FBI deals with every year.

Losing money to someone who pretends to be in love with you may seem like the worst outcome of exploring online dating options, but much darker dangers exist. Until you meet in person, you really have no idea who is on the other end of the message thread. Stalkers, sex offenders and murderers could be hiding behind the disguise of a fake profile picture and a phone screen. Choosing an online dating website or app that conducts background checks to verify members’ identities is a safe way to avoid these issues.

Red Flags
Throughout the process of online dating, you should be wary of red flags that separate the quality contenders from the deceitful and devious. Before any messages are exchanged, steer clear of profiles that include phrases like “I need,” or possessive language with negative positioning. Blurry photos and profiles that only include one photo should be noted.

Once you’ve chatted enough to feel comfortable and agree to meet for a date, pay attention to how they respond to you. If your potential date immediately texts you aggressively and constantly, or asks for money or photos, do not respond, as this behavior indicates that your date is single for a reason. If your date only responds to you at odd hours or takes a long time to reply, it could mean that they’re already in a relationship.

When you feel comfortable enough to meet in real life, always choose a public place. Relay the details of the plan to at least two friends so they know the time and location of your date.

As you meet your suitor in person, pay attention to their actions and body language. If they exhibit rude behavior toward your server, pressure you to drink alcohol or mix up information they told you previously, recognize these as major red flags and your cue to leave.

Escape Strategies
Online dating has the advantage of talking beforehand and getting to know someone prior to meeting in person. While you might hit it off and have a great date, always be aware of escape strategies in case you feel awkward or anxious.

When you tell your friend about the date, set up a code word to ensure your safety. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, text your friend the code word and have them call you with an excuse to leave or pick you up right away.

If you find yourself with a pit in your stomach, use that as an excuse. Tell your date you feel sick and need to leave immediately. You can avoid confrontation by quickly excusing yourself to the restroom and leaving the venue from there. If you’re afraid to leave by yourself, pull your server or any venue employee aside and ask them for help.

Once you make your decision to leave, trust your intuition. Don’t stay on a date simply to be polite or feel as if you have to explain yourself, especially if you feel you’re in danger. Calling the police may seem drastic, but if you feel unsafe, it could be the one call that saves your life.

The end goal of online dating is an offline relationship. Healthy commitment is the outcome of honest communication. Be aware, trust your gut and stay safe! ■

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