Online dating is now the norm for singles to connect and find love.
Though many dating app users are genuine, these platforms also attract scammers, catfishers and bots. In 2018, romance scams ranked as one of the most common fraud-related crimes, with each victim reporting a median loss of $2,600, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Recently, a California Tinder user narrowly avoided an online dating scam when he (rightly) became suspicious of a “match” who asked him to verify his account by entering credit card information on a third-party website.
However, situations like this don’t mean you should avoid dating sites altogether. Rather, you should practice online dating safety tips to ensure you’re connecting with the right people.
The rise of online dating—and online dating scams
More couples are meeting online than ever before. In fact, nearly half of U.S. internet users have either met a dating partner online or know someone who has. However, as online dating becomes more popular, more scammers are seeing opportunities to take advantage of unwitting app users.
Romance scams, which have risen nearly 150% since 2015, are commonly associated with catfishing. This is the practice of purposely misrepresenting your identity online, usually for the purpose of tricking someone out of money. Scammers accomplish this by forming an emotional bond with their victims, then leveraging that relationship to request money for medical bills, airfare, hotel stays or some other fictional predicament.
Other common online dating scams involve bots designed to send malicious website links to users via direct message or text. Once a user clicks, they may find themselves with malware installed on their device, or they may be duped into providing personal and/or financial information to a scammer.
Online dating safety tips
Finding the right match may take time, luck and a bit of alchemy, but personal safety should never be left up to chance. Follow these online dating safety tips to better educate yourself and take precautions against the bad actors.
1. Research your dates.
When you meet someone online, don’t assume they are who they claim to be. Do a Google search or use a people search site to see what you can learn about the person’s identity. A Google reverse image search can also shed light on whether the person may be using stolen images of other attractive people, which is a common tactic of catfishers.
2. Trust your instincts.
While the “swiping game” might seem shallow, if you feel someone won’t be a good match for you, don’t overthink it—your instincts are probably correct.
“The best advice I like to give is to trust your intuition,” said Julie Spira, an online dating expert.
Even online interactions can give you a decent feel for others based on how they portray themselves, how they speak to you and what they post/share. Similarly, your gut might tell you a match’s profile is fake or otherwise suspicious. If something seems off, it probably is.
3. Keep personal info private.
Just as you wouldn’t give any random person your phone number and home address, you shouldn’t do so with an online dating match just because you feel an instant connection. Until you get to know them better, you’ll want to closely guard your personal information. Revealing too much too soon might give someone leverage to take advantage of you (or worse, try to scam you).
4. Don’t send money.
“Never open your wallet for someone who’s rushing to capture your heart,” Spira said. This might seem obvious, but some people get caught up in whirlwind online romances and will do anything to please the object of their affections. Scammers often use their victims' emotions as leverage to steal money or get what they want.
5. Meet at a public place, and have an exit plan.
When you first start talking to someone, you likely won’t be ready to meet up and jump into something serious right away. If the relationship progresses, it’s natural to want to test your compatibility—and confirm the person exists—by going on a date in real life.
When choosing the location for your first date, avoid a private location such as a residence. Instead, meet at a public place, like a restaurant or coffee shop. Tell someone you trust the details of your meetup so they can take action if they don’t hear from you. If something starts to feel wrong during the date, Spira recommended ending it early and excusing yourself from the situation.
6. Report suspicious behavior.
If you ever feel uncomfortable or pressured, don’t be afraid to report the user to the dating platform on which you first met. You may also wish to alert law enforcement if you’re concerned about the person’s behavior in person. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
7. Don’t move the conversation off-platform too soon.
By sticking to the app’s messaging platform, it’s easier to report a user who sends inappropriate or uncomfortable messages because there’s an in-app record of the conversation.
That being said, at some point you’ll probably want to move off-platform and exchange numbers to communicate via text message. If you’re uncomfortable giving out your number, try using a VoIP number that routes calls and messages to your real phone number.
“This helps in case the match goes south and you don’t want someone to know your personal cell phone number,” Spira said.
The bottom line
You can never take too many precautions when it comes to personal safety. Embracing a few online dating safety tips ensures you’ll be going into the dating game with your eyes wide open to all the possibilities.