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Online dating and staying safe

Seven million of us in the UK, are registered with an online dating service, right now.

And it’s not hard to understand why – it’s an instantaneous, low-effort way to flirt and meet new people and we probably all know someone who met a partner online. In fact – it’s how a quarter of us will meet our other half.

The vast majority of people using dating services, are there with good, honest intentions. But what about the people that aren’t?

At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, it’s important to stop for a minute and make sure you’re aware of the pitfalls and risks.

Here is our advice, for using dating services, safely:

Making contact

Watch what you share
One of the golden rules of online dating is don’t exchange personal information. This starts with the username you pick; avoid something that might give something away about you, such as your surname, age or year of birth. Second, until you’ve met and feel you can trust the person you’ve met online, don’t share your address, where you work or study, your phone number or email address.

Stay in the app
It’s safer to keep using the messaging function within the dating app or site until you feel you have met and can trust them. If they ask for your number, or ask you to email them or switch to WhatsApp (a common trick among scammers is to say their subscription is running out), just politely decline and say it’s nothing personal, it’s just your policy not to.

Get to know them first
It can be a good idea to message and get to know a bit about each other before meeting up. It can help to give you a sense of who they are – and whether you have things in common. Just think about the details you’re sharing about you and your life. Avoid saying exactly where you live and work for example, until you’ve got to know each other a bit better and feel you can trust them.

“My advice would be to not accept a date with someone straight after making contact”

“My advice would be to not accept a date with someone straight after making contact I remember meeting someone on a dating site who asked me on a date straight after we matched. At the time I thought ‘why not, what’s the point in chatting for hours or even days, why waste time’. But when we met, there was something about him that made me feel slightly uneasy. With hindsight, I’d say – try to have a conversation, get a feel for who they are, what their interests are, what they do for a living.” Anna

Apply a filter
Would you say the same things with someone face-to-face? If not, it’s best not to online either.

Picture sharing
Whether its your profile pictures or those sent to individuals you’re chatting to, think before you share. Sharing naked or provocative images can attract attention that you may not be looking for and could lead to risky situations that are beyond your control.

“For some reason which escapes me now I put up relatively revealing pictures and an online handle (‘Clare wants to play’ – CRINGE!!) on one profile that weren’t exactly designed to elicit a particularly mature response. Consequently I got lots of messages from people who I had no interest in, and looking back it was a risky thing to do because I invited unwanted attention.” Clare

Google them
Try Googling what you know about them and do a Google image search to see where else their photo has appeared. Also, see if you have shared friends on Facebook or look them up on LinkedIn. That can be a great way to suss them out in advance. And trust us, this is not weird, stalk-y behavior. It’s totally sensible and they’re probably doing the same to you.

Trust your gut
Just like when you meet someone face-to-face, your instincts will tell you if something’s not quite right. Maybe they won’t tell you much about themselves but ask you a ton of questions, or perhaps they’ve declared their undying love you before you’ve even met. If it feels weird, chances are something’s not what it seems. Trust your instincts and be cautious until you’ve had long enough to really get to know someone. And if you’re really not sure, run it by a friend that you trust to get some advice.

Consider the risks
Bear in mind that there’s a limit to an online dating service’s ability to do background checks or verify someone’s identity. They can’t, for instance, do criminal records checks on every user. Do as much research as you can, trust your judgement and make an informed decision before meeting up with someone.

Meeting up

Keep it casual
A good tip is to keep it super-casual. If you go for a coffee or a drink, it is much easier to end the date than if you’ve committed to a sit down meal. But by the same token, if it goes well, you can easily carry on and let it turn into lunch or dinner.

“One date was a disaster. I had no interest in the guy whatsoever, and the mature response would have been to have dinner (as planned), split the bill and go home. Instead I dealt with it by getting drunk and kissing him at a club. I vaguely remember he paid for everything. Thank god I didn’t go home with him, but unsurprisingly he thought I liked him. When I got home and sobered up I felt pretty rubbish and wanted to put an end to the whole thing immediately, so I sent him a message thanking him for a lovely evening but that I didn’t want to go on a second date. He did not take it. I got a very angry accusatory email accusing me of leading him on and the fact he’d paid all night definitely got mentioned. I then started to feel quite worried as we’d met not far from my work and I might have mentioned that I worked in the area… Luckily after a few bad emails I never heard from him again.” Carrie

Go public
Another golden rule of dating is; always meet in a public place. Never meet at their house or invite them to yours and make sure it’s a place where there are lots of people around and ideally – where you have phone signal. It is also a good idea to meet somewhere that you know well and are familiar with so you know how to get home.

“Make sure you meet in a busy place, a bar or pub. And try to arrange to meet somewhere in the middle that’s easy for you to get home from.”


Tell a friend
Make sure that someone knows you’re on a date and where you are. Also, try to text that friend if there’s a change to the plan – or just to keep them updated about how it’s going. You should also let them know when the date is over.

“I would text my friend regularly while I was on a date with someone I met online. You should make sure those close to you know where you are and what you’re doing, at the very least.” Clare

Stay charged
Make sure your phone is charged and that you have enough credit to call or text someone – you don’t want to get caught short. And it’s a good idea to keep your phone with you at all times.

Arrange your own transport
Letting your date collect you from or drop you off (especially at home) might not be a good idea. Think through your travel plans in advance and if they offer, you can thank them and say you’ll make your own way. Also, try to meet somewhere that you can get back from easily.

Long distance dates
If you live some distance from one another, you need to take extra care if you travel to meet them. Stay in a hotel or B&B and keep the location private. If they want to pick you up or walk you back to where you’re staying, you could also say you’re staying somewhere else. And if you can’t afford to stay in a hotel, you shouldn’t go. You might feel like you really know them and have built a bond but agreeing to stay with them is not wise either.

Watch your stuff
Most of us will rely on a bit of dutch courage to get through a date but keep it to a level that you’re under control and don’t leave your drink unattended. Also, don’t leave your phone, wallet or bags unattended. Keep them with you at all times.

Feeling uncomfortable?
Leave at any time if you feel uncomfortable, your safety is the most important thing. If you feel embarrassed or guilty about leaving, tell them you feel unwell and make your excuses. Or text a friend and get them to ring you and pretend they need you.

“ My advice would be – never feel like you have to stay out with someone if you’re not interested in them “

“I realised pretty quickly after meeting him that there was no connection. Out of all the dates I’d been on there was something about this man that made me feel slightly uneasy. But I was polite so stayed out for a couple of hours and then went home. The next day I told him (in the nicest way) that I was not interested. His initial response was polite and accepting but about an hour later I received quite an angry message from him that left me with an uncomfortable feeling, I’d never experienced that sort of response from other men I’d met online. I didn’t respond and I deleted him straight away. My advice would be – never feel like you have to stay out with someone if you’re not interested in them – just to be polite. There’s nothing wrong with ending a date early and going home.” Hannah

Things you should report

Requests for money
Dating services work hard to stamp this sort of thing out but be mindful of the fact that if someone asks you for money, they’re almost certainly a scammer. They might tell you they need to buy a plane or train ticket, that they’re widowed, that their relative is sick or that they will give you something in return. Whatever the story, never ever give out your bank details or give someone money and if they ask, stop replying and report them immediately to protect both you and others from being scammed. If you’ve already done this, report it immediately through Action Fraud.

Offensive, insulting or threatening messages
If you feel sure you’re talking to someone who isn’t who they say they are, or if they’re threatening, offensive or insulting, report it to the dating site or app you’re using. Don’t feel embarrassed or like you’re wasting their time. You’re helping them keep their site safe and before you brush it off as being a bad experience, just think about the next person they get chatting to. Dating sites and apps usually take their member’s safety seriously and will have in-built features to block or report.

Obscene images
If you receive obscene, pornographic, violent or abusive images via a dating service, report it to the dating site and the police immediately. Depending on the content, this is likely to be illegal.


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