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Relationships, Staying Safe Online

Online dating and staying safe

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

Dating apps are wildly popular and it’s not hard to understand why – it’s an instant, low-effort way to flirt and meet new people. We probably all know someone who met a partner online. In fact – it’s how a quarter of us will meet our partner(s)! 

Dating apps can be really useful and a great way to meet people but there are some things you should be aware of when talking to people on dating apps and going on first dates. 

Most dating apps are for people over the age of 18 only. This is to keep young people safe. 

Planning the first date

Take your time  

If you’re someone that doesn’t like to message or you just really fancy the person you’ve matched with, you might be tempted to meet up with them as soon as possible. But before you jump in to planning an in-person date, make sure you’ve taken the time to get to know the person a bit. 

Check they are who they say they are  

Dating apps mean you have access to thousands of people but not everyone on dating apps is who they say they are, these people are known as catfishes.  

Never send money or give out your personal details (street, surname etc) to someone you haven’t met. Lots of catfishes use online dating and dating apps as a way to scam you out of money. If someone asks for money, report them and don’t engage with them. You can also report them on ActionFraud 

How can I check they are who they say they are?

Check to see if they have a verified profile

Many dating apps with have this feature which provides some protection that they are the same person as in their images.

Ask to add them on social media

Although some scammers will also have set up social media accounts, these tend to have no tagged photos, the same images as on their profile, very few friends/followers and have only recently been set up.

Google reverse search their profile images

You can use Google to see if an image is used elsewhere. If that image appears with someone else’s name, they’re probably not who they say they are. You could also do a good old google search of their name if you have it and see if they’re on LinkedIn or Facebook. 

Ask them to take a photo of themselves doing something random

You could ask them to take a photo holding a spoon or something equally bizarre! If they are who they say they are most people won’t mind doing this if it puts your mind at ease.  

All these are great ways to suss them out in advance. And trust us, this is not weird, stalk-y behaviour. It’s totally sensible and they’re probably doing the same to you. 

Some people like to video call before a date so that they’re not wasting their time if they don’t get on and they can feel more confident that they are who they say they are. This isn’t for everyone but can be a quick way to ease nerves and worries.

Stay in the app 

It’s safer to message within the dating app until you’ve met and feel you can trust them. If they ask for your number or switch to WhatsApp, just politely decline and say it’s nothing personal, you just prefer to stay in the app. 

Don’t feel pressure to meet up before you’re ready 

It’s a good idea to get to know who they are and what you might have in common before you meet up, this is not only safer but will also save you time, money and effort if they’re not your cup of tea. 

“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 

Trust your gut 

Your instincts will often 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, listen to your gut. Your energy and interest are probably better spent elsewhere. 

Don’t share nudes  

If the other person has asked for nudes but you haven’t met yet, be wary because when you share things online, particularly to people you don’t know, you can quickly lose control of it – even if you only sent it to one person. If they don’t respect your decision and instead pressure you to send nudes this isn’t acceptable behaviour and it’s best to block them.

Sharing naked images without the other person’s consent, also known as cyberflashing, is a form of sexual harassment. Most dating apps don’t allow you to send photos within the app so this is another reason why staying in the app is a good idea. If you do receive an unwanted nude, you should report it to the dating app and block/unmatch with the person. 

Sending naked images of, or to, people under 18 is illegal. If this has happened to you, speak with a trusted adult or an organisation like Brook, or Childline on their website or by calling 0800 1111. 

Don’t take ghosting personally 

It can be frustrating when you’ve started a conversation with someone only for them to just stop replying. This is called ghosting and it’s very common but acceptable at the talking stage of online dating. There are 101 reasons why someone will ghost you and none of them are ever a reflection on you.

When is ghosting acceptable?
If you’re not feeling it but you haven’t met up yet and haven’t made plans to, don’t worry too much about not replying. If you have made plans or have met up with them, you should let them know. You don’t owe them commitment but you do owe them respect and communication.

The First Date

So you’re pretty confident they are who they say they are, you’ve both agreed that you’d like to meet up, what do you do next? 

Arrange a time and a place 

Meeting up with someone you’ve not met before does come with risks, they could be not who they say they are,  they might give you bad vibes or you simply might not get along.  With this in mind, choosing a location and time for the date is really important for safety, and enjoyment, reasons. Here’s some top tips of where to go:  

Always meet in a public place

Make sure it’s a place where there are lots of people around and, ideally, where you have phone signal.  

Meet somewhere you know  

It’s even better if you meet somewhere you know. This will help make you feel more comfortable and safer.

Don’t invite them over to your house and don’t go to their house

This can make it difficult if you don’t like them for you to leave or get them to leave 

Make sure you have your own transport

Don’t let your date pick you up for the first date, make sure you’re able to get there and back without their help.  

Stick to simple dates

Go for coffee or a drink, something short and quick so if it’s not going well, you aren’t having to sit through a three-course meal that you’ve just spent all your money on. If you go for coffee and it goes really well you can always make it more of a date and do something afterwards. 

Avoid alcohol

Alcohol can help with first date nerves but it could also put you in a dangerous position if you drink so much that you can’t get yourself home safely. If you’re meeting for a drink, you could try setting yourself a limit of how many drinks you can have or, if you drive, you could drive to the date so it limits you to just one or two drinks.  If they’re pushing for a drinking date and don’t respect you if you say you don’t want to do that, they might not be what you’re looking for.  

Make sure someone knows where you’re going 

Always make sure that a friend or someone else knows where you’re going and who you’re meeting. Share a photo of the person’s profile who you’re meeting and update your friend throughout the date so they know you’re okay.  

If you’re not great at remembering to message, which can be particularly hard if the date is going well, you can share your location with your friend for the day so they know where you are without you having to update them.  

It’s also best if you plan how you’re going to get home. You should be as independent as possible when it comes to the first date, you don’t want to be relying on someone who you could end up not liking at all to get home. Plan your route in advance and let your friends know how you’re getting there. 

Make sure your phone is charged 

If the date goes well you might end up being out longer than you thought, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a fully charged phone or a charger with you so you aren’t having to rely on your date to help you get home and so you’ve got a way of communicating with friends if you need to. 

Have a great time! 

First dates can be nerve-wracking. They are sometimes awkward, not everyone will like you and you may say the wrong thing but all of this is normal and is part of dating! Dating doesn’t work until it does so you may end up going on many sub-par first dates until you find someone you want to see more of. 

It’s helpful to remember that it’s not just about whether they like you, it’s also about whether you like them. First dates are easier if you don’t put too much pressure on them, they might not be someone you want to meet again but if all else fails you’ll have learnt something from them or if it’s an awkward date, you’ll have a funny story to tell your friends.  

Leave if you feel uncomfortable  

If you feel embarrassed or guilty about leaving, tell them you feel unwell or make excuse. Or text a friend and get them to ring you and pretend they need you. 

If you feel unsafe, many hospitality venues also support the ‘Ask for Angela’ scheme. This is where you can ask a member of staff to talk to Angela. This code will alert the member of staff that you’re feeling unsafe and threatened and they can then support you to get home safely, whether that’s reuniting you with a friend, calling security or the police or escorting you to a taxi. 

You don’t owe your date anything, just as they don’t owe you anything
Even if they bought your dinner or drinks or travelled far to meet you, this does not mean you have to agree to see them again or do anything you don’t want to.  

“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 

There are no dating rules 

Don’t feel pressure to take things at a certain speed, everyone is different and likes different things. Take it at your own pace and communicate this to the person you’re dating.  

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