Are you ready to give online dating a whirl? With 40 million Americans dating online, your perfect match could be out there setting up their profile in the hope of meeting someone just like you. What begins with a simple click could blossom into an epic love story. But before you start “pinning” wedding cake ideas—in fact, before you e
even consider signing up for a dating site—take a step back.
You may consider yourself savvy about online activity like shopping or renting an apartment, but when it comes to dating, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement—letting down your digital guard. The online dating world is filled with fakers and scammers, so follow these cyber safety tips to protect yourself and your data.
1. Set Up a Digital Privacy Zone
First, create an email account that you will use only for online dating. Don’t use your real name, ZIP code, workplace, or any other identifying information. Instead, pick something generic like “mustlovedogs” or “mountainclimber123.”
Next, set up a proxy telephone number with Google Voice. You can give people this number instead of your home or cell (either of which can be used to find your address). A proxy number forwards to your phone, but only when you want it to (you can designate times when the number will go straight to voicemail). Plus, you can block unwanted callers, which might come in handy.
2. Get Smart with Passwords
You would never choose “password” as a password, but why are you including words (like your pet’s name) at all? Instead, use a password generator to create complex passwords—long strings of letters, digits, and special characters. You should create a different password for every one of your online accounts—shopping sites, online banking, and social networks—and for each online dating service you join.
3. Use Only Trusted Networks
Some networks have public settings that could allow hackers to connect to your device. You shouldn’t use a friend’s phone or the Wi-Fi at your favorite coffee house for shopping or banking because you can’t count on those networks being secure. Add online dating to this list to keep your personal information safe.
4. Remove Geo-Tags Before Posting Photos
Did you know that when you take a picture with your cellphone, the location data (geo-tag) is embedded in that picture? Anyone with an app that reads geo-tags can find out exactly where the photo was taken. So, before sharing your photos, remove those geo-tags. This cyber safety tip is not limited to dating; if you’re selling a car on Craigslist or jewelry on eBay, delete the geo-tags.
5. Beware of Red Flags
Possibly the most important tip of all: if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. Online dating scams are an industry. Ruthless individuals make a living by conning people who are looking for love. According to the FBI, online romance scams led to victim losses of $82 million during a six-month period in 2014.
Romance scammers also tend to follow a pattern, one you can identify early if you know what to look for. U.S. News & World Report advises online daters to watch out for specific red flags, such as rushing to proclamations of love, model-type good looks (typically photos stolen from modeling agencies), odd use of English (these scammers often use translation software), a refusal to meet in person, and—the biggest red flag of all—asking for money. When you spot a red flag, run, don’t walk: block the user, report them to the service, and move on.
6. Take Advantage of Security Features
Think about the extent to which you want to be searchable. Some sites will allow you to go incognito—only people you select can see your profile. Yes, you’ll be limiting the number of those 40 million daters who might connect with you, but you’ll also protect your privacy and stay in charge of who sees your profile.
7. Meet Safely
Finally, when you’ve made a connection and you’re ready to meet them in person, keep it short, sweet, and safe. Let a few friends know where you’re going and arrange to check in with them after the date. Meet in a public place, like a coffee house, for thirty minutes or an hour. Keep it light; this is a first meeting, not an audition for a lifetime commitment. The idea is to gauge how you feel connecting with your new acquaintance IRL.
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Some dates will be awesome, and others may be awkward. You can’t always protect yourself from a disappointing date, but by employing these tips, you can stay safe, online and off. And don’t stop there. Continue to educate yourself about online dating: visit the links in this article to learn more and always be on the lookout for new safety tips.