Using Caution When Meeting People On The Net
Meeting people on the internet – what must be done to be safe?
In today’s day and age, meeting Mr. or Ms. Right can be a risky proposition. Many stories have appeared recently about the dangers of meeting people on the internet. Certainly the most horrendous stories are those of adult predators enticing minors. Other problems involved married people representing themselves as single, scam artists seeking love-starved people to finance their lives, and foreigners looking to get married just for the purpose of being allowed to leave their current country.
Most of the stories involve internet matching sites. Myspace.com and Facebook (which focuses on students) have been particularly prevalent in these articles, especially regarding adult predators, but they are not the only sites that pose such risks. The rapid growth of social network sites such as these and the more traditional dating sites is probably the reason for their dominance in the press. The same dangers that apply to internet dating sites also apply to any situation in which two people meet for the purpose of romance.
There is much that persons can and should do to protect themselves when joining an internet dating site. Rather than a negative, when used properly, online dating sites can provide a safer way to meet people because they allow their members as much time as they need to get to know each other anonymously before taking the step of meeting. The following points are a "must do" list for online dating.
1. Use caution right from the start.
Keep the relationship anonymous at the outset. Remain anonymous and protect your identify until you get a comfortable feeling about the other person. Begin by communicating using online messages, then look for odd behavior or inconsistencies. The other person may not be who or what he or she says. Trust your instincts. If anything makes you uncomfortable, stop immediately.
2. Do not reveal your identity until you are comfortable.
All correspondence between members on an online dating site ensures your true identity is protected until you decide to reveal it. Never include your personal information in your profile or initial messages. If you go outside the site’s anonymous message system to communicate with someone, turn off your email signature file. Use an email service such as yahoo or hotmail, setting up an account just for communications such as this. That way, if a person begins to harass you, you can simply discontinue that account to prevent further problems. Never reveal your Social Security number or any financial information. At this point in your relationship, don't give out your address or place of employment.
Stop communicating with anyone who pressures you for personal information or attempts in any way to trick you into revealing it.
3. Get photos
A photo will give you a good idea of the person’s appearance, which may prove helpful in achieving a gut feeling. It’s best to view several images of someone in various settings. If all you hear are excuses about why you can’t see a photo, consider that he or she has something to hide.
4. Continue to exercise caution and common sense
Careful, thoughtful decisions generally yield better dating results. Don’t be naïve, suitors must earn your trust gradually, through consistently honest behavior. Take all the time you need to test for a trustworthy person and pay careful attention along the way. If you suspect someone is lying, he or she probably is, so act accordingly. Be responsible about romance, and don’t let love cloud your vision. Don’t become prematurely intimate with someone, even if that intimacy only occurs online. If you mutually decide to go that route in person, be smart and protect yourself.
5. Speak by phone first
A phone call can reveal much about a person’s communication and social skills. Don’t reveal your personal phone number to a stranger. Use a cell phone number instead or use blocking to prevent your phone number from appearing in Caller ID. Only furnish your phone number when you feel completely comfortable.
6. Don't meet face to face until you are ready
You never are obligated to meet anyone, regardless of your level of online intimacy. Wait until you feel comfortable and you have gathered enough information and are sure a meeting is appropriate.
7. Meet in a safe place
The first face to face date should be planned for the specific purpose of establishing a comfort level. Meeting for coffee or a meal is ideal. Besides the amount of time that kind of a date consumes, there will be other people there, and it has a specific ending to it. Always tell a friend where you are going and when you will return. Leave your date’s name and telephone number with your friend. Never arrange for your date to pick you up at home. Provide your own transportation, and when the date is over, leave on your own as well. If at some point you and your date decide to move to another location, take your own car. When the timing is appropriate, thank your date for getting together and say goodbye.
8. Be careful with alcohol and medications.
Refrain from drinking excessively, as it could impair your ability to make good decisions. Never leave your drink unattended. Do not mix alcohol with medications if you are uncertain of the effects.
9. Have a way to get yourself out of a jam
Never do anything you feel unsure about. If you are in any way afraid of your date, use your best judgment to defuse the situation and get out of there. Excuse yourself long enough to call a friend for advice, ask someone else on the scene for help or slip out the back door and drive away. If you feel you are in danger, call the police; it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Never worry or feel embarrassed about your behavior; your safety is much more important than one person’s opinion of you.
10. Take extra caution outside your area
If you are flying in from another city, arrange for your own car and hotel room. Do not disclose the name of your hotel and never allow your date to make the arrangements for you. Rent a car at the airport and drive directly to your hotel. Call your date from the hotel or meet at the location you have already agreed on. If the location seems inappropriate or unsafe, go back to your hotel. Try to contact your date at that location or leave a message on a home machine. Always make sure a friend or family member knows your plans and has your contact information. And if possible, carry a cell phone at all times.
11. Watch for red flags
Pay attention to displays of anger, intense frustration or attempts to pressure or control you. Acting in a passive-aggressive manner, making demeaning or disrespectful comments or any physically inappropriate behavior are all red flags. Ask a lot of questions and pay attention to their answers and the way they respond. Are they stammering? Do they avoid direct answers about their past, their family and where they're from? Ask specific questions, such as, "Are you married?" If they stutter or act stunned, that might be a red flag. You should be concerned if your date exhibits any of the following behavior without providing an acceptable explanation:
- Provides inconsistent information about age, interests, appearance, marital status, education, profession, employment, etc.
- Refuses to speak to you on the phone after establishing ongoing, online intimacy.
- Fails to provide direct answers to direct questions.
- Appears significantly different in person from his or her online persona.
- Never introduces you to friends, professional associates or family members.
12. Watch out for foreign profiles.
Foreign profiles are more likely to be scams trying to part you from your money, especially Eastern European and African profiles. There are legitimate matches there, but you need to be extra careful and investigate the person you are looking to date. Never send money or any other support to anyone you don’t know for any reason.
13. Do personal background checks
You should get to know a potential date well before agreeing to meet. Initial meetings should use common sense, such as meeting in a public place or being with a friend. Be careful, don't believe everything you hear. You may wish to do a background check before getting seriously involved with someone you meet online or any other way.
14. Do health background checks
If a relationship leads to sexual contact, you potentially are at risk for a variety of health hazards and for pregnancy. You should not have sexual contact until you both have had an STD screening. Make sure to consult your physician or public health authorities for safety advice. A good background check will cost at least $200 and can run in excess of a thousand dollars, depending on the level of certainty you are looking for.
15. Verify age
It is your responsibility to ensure that any relationship you have is legal. If you are in doubt that a person is 18 or over, ask to see proof.
Additional information about dating services:
Many people sign up with personal dating services – these usually charge a fairly significant flat fee for which they will provide information about prospective matches. Typically, but not always they do a background check on their customers. Online dating sites usually involve writing a "profile" describing yourself and what you are looking for in a match. Posting your profile is free. Revenues are generated either by ads or by charging members for full access to all services. Social network sites are similar to dating sites but they go beyond dating and incorporate meeting friends and even business connections. Many allow their members to provide personal information, although they have toughened their standards recently in response to problems such as those experienced by MySpace. There are all levels in between – many dating sites also incorporate some of the features of social networking sites (although they rarely allow specific personal information), but their focus is clearly towards seeking romance.
At least one dating site (True.com) promotes the fact that all of its members are subject to background checks before their profile is included in its database. The background checks target married people and convicted criminals. Their emphasis to members is that they can feel safer when meeting people on their site.
Unfortunately, the type of background check that would have to be done to ensure that a member is not married or a convicted felon would be quite costly, anywhere from $75 to several hundred dollars or more. And a clever scam artist could easily find ways to avoid detection, for example by using a stolen identity. Furthermore, sites that promote themselves as being safe by doing such checks may well be the ones that are most attractive to such people. Once they pass the check, the people who they meet would be lulled into a false sense of security and less likely to do their own due diligence.
Adults who provide their personal information before knowing who they are dealing with are clearly taking a big risk. One of the biggest benefits of most internet dating sites is that they provide a safe way for people to get to know each other before actually meeting face to face. Many people have found romance and marriage on internet dating sites – they provide a very valuable service when used properly.
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