ONLINE DATING

Online dating can certainly be convenient in this technological era, but it comes with it's fair share of complications and dangers. Cyberstalking, catfishing, and scamming have become a prevalent trend in the online dating community -- it is imperative you understand how to avoid this risks.

Understanding Online Dating

Digital technology, especially smart devices, have transformed many aspects of our society, including how people meet each other and establish relationships – romantic or otherwise. 

Attitudes toward dating apps have grown progressively more positive in recent years -- in fact, around 40% of American couples have admitted to meeting online. How we conduct our relationships is changing, and it is clear that technology has played a key part in this change. People are turning to their devices to work, shop, play, and manage their personal lives.

Online dating is becoming popular, but with the process inherently requiring users to share a bevvy of personal information, it is important to consider the potential dangers involved. Are online daters exposing too much personal information, thus exposing themselves and their devices to malicious people (and malware) too easily? If you are dating online, it is important to know how to protect yourself.

Online Dating Safety Tips

Reminder: these are tips ​for adults, not minors. Most dating apps require you to be 18 years of age or older to join -- minors should not use these services, should not lie about their age, and should never get together with people they meet online.

  1. If you are going on a date with someone you meet online, tell your friends where you're going and who you're meeting with. It may be beneficial to share your location with your friends so that they are able to see your whereabouts. If you go to a location that was not a part of the plan for the date, your friends will be able to see this and they should check on you to make sure you are safe.

  2. For the first date, always meet in a public place.

  3. Don't get into a car on the first date and don't go the person's home/invite them to your home, even if you're having a good time. There is plenty of time to do these things later on in the relationship.

  4. "Catfishing" is very prevalent in the online dating community -- it is best to do a video call with the person before you go on a date with them to make sure they are who they say they are.

  5. Google your date before you go out with them. This will help you learn a little bit more about them so you can make sure you are safe on your date. You also might want to become Facebook friends with them before you meet. You can unfriend them afterward if you'd like.

  6. Google YOURSELF. This may sound crazy, but you need to know what is out there about you. You should always know how how much of your personal information is readily available so that you can keep yourself safe.

  7. Don't give your full name until after a first date. Making yourself too easy to find on Google won't help you stay safe while dating online.

  8. Get a Google Voice number! If you want to avoid the potential threat of being "cellular-ly harassed," it is best to get a Google Voice number and give that out instead of your real number.

  9. Don't reveal who you work for. Always keep things as vague as possible -- you don't want someone showing up at your workplace unannounced.

  10. NEVER send money to someone you are interacting with online. Don't give them your credit card number, your mother's maiden name, first dog's name, or any other private information that could be use to access your financial or social accounts.

  11. Don't overdo the booze -- never leave your drink or food unattended.

  12. Consider carrying pepper spray, but be careful with it. It will make you feel safer on your date!

  13. Do not lie about your age or other characteristics. Be very suspicious if you discover that your date isn't being honest.

Catfishing

Ever come a cross someone's dating profile that seems too good to be true? A supermodel with too few followers on their social media profile? It can be difficult to tell if someone is fake or not, but if it doesn't feel right, it usually isn't. There are several ways to catch a "catfish" and keep yourself safe online. If you meet someone on a dating app or online, here are the signs to look out for:

  • Most "catfish" social media accounts will be private, and they will only be on one social media platform. To create an account on most dating apps, you must connect to a social media account. If you find their Facebook, it will have only one or two pictures and will say that it was created recently.

  • The "catfish" profile will contain very low quality pictures because they were cropped or stolen. They may be decent quality, but not normal photos like you would see on someone else's profile.

  • They are exceedingly attractive people. Usually, people who "catfish" others will use model's pictures -- the models are typically lesser known but still popular.

  • They are easily reachable 

  • They only list their first name or their first name and last name initial on their profile. They will often not divulge their last name, and if they do, it will be a very common last name. If you do get their last name, conduct a Google search to see if you can find anything about them. If nothing pops up, they are probably fake.

Now, if all of these bullet points make sense with the person you're dealing with, keep reading to see how to react if you think you are being "catfished."

  • Try to FaceTime them. If they aren't real, they will always have an excuse as to why they cannot go on video (they don't have a camera, their camera is broken, they don't have time, they're sick, etc.)

  • If they live nearby (if you met on a dating app, they probably do), try to meet up in the beginning so you don't get too involved.

  • On their social profile, go through their tagged photos and comments. If they don't have any tagged photos, this should be a red flag. If someone comments on one of their photos, go visit their profile. This can sometimes be tricky, however, cause some fake accounts go back years and often have other fake accounts commenting and tagging them in photos.

  • Reverse search their images. Some good reverse image searching platforms are tineye.com, Google Images, and Bing Image Search.

  • You can also fact check their bios on their social media accounts.

Cyberstalking

What defines cyberstalking? In a legal context, "cyberstalking" is the prolonged use of online harassment intended "to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill injure, harass, or intimidate" a target (18 U.S. Code § 2261A. Stalking). You may be wondering: what constitutes as cyberstalking? Example: someone is sending you manipulative, threatening, lewd, or harassing emails from an assortment of email accounts. They may even go as far as hacking into your online accounts (such as banking or email) and changing your settings/passwords.

What do you do if you're being cyberstalked? Cyberstalking is a federal offense, and many states have cyberstalking laws in place. You should contact law enforcement or seek the advice of a lawyer if you're comfortable. You may also block your stalker on social media, document every harassment incident that occurs in relation to the stalking, make sure your online accounts are protected and passwords are changed, and enlist the support of your community.

Here are some tips to prevent cyberstalking:

  • Make a list of safe sites -- AKA, those that adopt an anti-harassment policy and follow through with it. Make sure you are only visiting those sites.

  • Do not give out any of your personal information to strangers in emails, chatrooms, or on social media.

  • Make sure your screen name is neutral -- never use your real name, nickname, or any type of "suggestive" name.

  • Only accept friend requests or follow requests from people that you know

  • Be very cautious about meeting an online acquaintance in person. If you choose to do this, always take someone with you and meet in a public place.

  • If you experience contact with someone that is hostile or threatening, log off immediately and report the incident to your Internet Service Provider. If you are in a chatroom or on social media, report the profile.

 

Here is what you can do if you are being cyberstalked:

 

  • If you are under 18, immediately talk to your parents or an adult you can trust about the situation. You may be in physical danger.

  • If whatever program you were using to contact the cyberstalker has filtering capability, use it to block or filter messages from that person.

  • Report the cyberstalker to whatever platform they have been using to harass you.

  • Keep a log of all communications from the stalker. Make copies of every email, message, and text, and do not alter them in any way -- this will be used as evidence.

  • Make it absolutely clear to the stalker that you never want to hear from them again.

  • If they continue to find ways to harass you, contact your local police department and tell them the situation. This is where your evidence will come in handy.

What to do if you're being stalked:

If you are being stalked online or offline, click "visit website" to visit stalkingawareness.org.

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