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How to Stay Safe While Dating Online

by Karen L. Blair, studioD

No longer do people view online dating as taboo. Many see it as a practical and efficient way to meet new individuals and seek loving relationships. As its popularity grows, remind yourself of the safety precautions necessary when online dating. It is important to be knowledgeable about how to protect yourself in an online environment.

Your Online Dating Profile

Your online dating profile contains the information that you are willing to share with the world, or at least other members of the dating site you are using. While some dating sites only allow their members' profiles to be viewed by other members, some dating sites make profiles visible to anyone with an Internet connection. With this in mind, it is important to ensure that the information you provide on your profile is information that you are comfortable sharing with any stranger. Never share your real name within the text of your online profile, and also avoid sharing any other information that may be personally identifying. For example, do not share your place of employment or study. Even something as innocuous as identifying the school that you attend can help others narrow in on your actual identity, which can be dangerous. If you have a very specialized hobby, job or interest, it may not be appropriate to include it in your profile if it can lead to your identification. For example, if you participate in a hobby that only has one location in town, sharing this information could help someone to locate you. More things to leave out of your profile: your birthdate, where you live, descriptions of daily routines and contact information.

Sharing Photos Online

It is important to carefully select the photos you choose to share on your dating profile. Some sites will allow you to set certain parts of your profile, such as photos, to private. This allows other members to see that you do have photos, but that they are only available for viewing with your permission. Regardless of the privacy settings you choose, be sure to select photos that do not provide any important personal information. Avoid posting photos that include your name (even just your first name) or any location information that might aid someone in determining your identity. For example, if your picture is in front of your house, someone may be able to find the house and determine where you live. Even a photo of you wearing a school sweatshirt could help individuals identify you. So be very selective when choosing the photos.

Sharing Personal Information With Potential Dates

When you begin to communicate with other individuals online, it is important to continue to monitor the information you share. The more you talk to an individual, the more you will be tempted to share details about your life as you attempt to get to know the person and determine whether he might be a suitable match. During these early stages of communication, it is important to still be guarded with any personally identifying information. Refrain from sharing your contact information, unless it is untraceable (for example, a prepaid cellular phone or a free email account), and delay sharing social network information. Although it can be tempting to move your conversations from the dating site to a social networking site, such as Facebook, you must first consider the additional information that will be available from those sites. Often Facebook profiles include personal photos and identifying information, such as your real name, your place of employment, the locations that you "check in" to and your personal day-to-day habits. Keep this information private until you truly know the person with whom you are communicating. So as tempting as it may be, try to avoid sharing your social networking information too soon.

Choosing When and Where to Meet in Person

Once you are ready to meet an individual in person, it is still important to be cautious. Even though you may feel like you know a person very well after talking to him for a period of time online, the truth is that you still cannot be 100 percent certain of the identity or character of the person with whom you are communicating. It is very important that you adhere to strict safety precautions when arranging a first meeting. Always ensure that the location you select is one that is public enough that other people will be around, but not so large and public that an altercation between two people would go unnoticed. It is also important to pick a location with which you are familiar, while still avoiding any locations that may be too personal or related to your own day-to-day routines. It is also important to let at least one other person know where you are going and who you are planning to meet. Give that person as much detail as possible. This way, if you are not home when expected or if something goes wrong, that person will have as much information as possible to seek assistance from the authorities. It can also be helpful to plan regular check-ins with someone throughout the first meeting, so that person knows how things are going and you can have easy access to assistance if needed. For example, let your friend know when you have met the person and give updates concerning any changes in plans that may occur as the date progresses. Another option is to have a friend come with you to meet the new person. You can arrange for that person to simply be in the same vicinity to keep a watchful eye, or you can actually bring the friend along with you if that would make you more comfortable. You may also consider activating any GPS-sharing options on your mobile phone that would let a friend or family member track your physical location for the duration of the date.

About the Author

Karen L. Blair has been professionally writing since 2001. Her work has been published in academic journals such as the "Journal of Sex Research," "Journal of Social and Personal Relationships" and "Psychology & Sexuality." Blair received her M.Sc. in psychology at Acadia University and her Ph.D. in social psychology at Queen's University. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow and research consultant.

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