By Angie Picardo
According to identity theft expert Robert Siciliano, “Millions of people use online dating sites to broaden their networks and meet potential mates, but not everyone on these sites are sincere—some are scammers hoping to lure you in with false affection, with the goal of gaining your trust, and eventually, your money.” When seeking friends or dates via the internet, people often tend to be overly optimistic or trusting, but it is important to remember that some people may take advantage of the your trust. Here are some tips for staying safe while making friends online.
- Keep your personal information personal. Details about where you live and work, your phone number or email address, or details that would lead someone to you with minimal effort should not be put in an online profile or shared with someone you’ve barely started communicating with. When selecting a profile name, don’t use your first and last name. Instead, choose a nickname or other title for yourself so that potential dates don’t have the key information for looking you up and learning too much about you in advance. If you’ve started talking to someone you feel you would like to exchange personal information, consider offering a secondary email account (email addresses are free and nothing stops you from having more than one) that isn’t directly linked to you or your work.
- Trust yourself. Use common sense and your instincts to stay away from risky situations. If you feel nervous about someone or something, don’t go; you probably feel that way for a reason. If the person is really interested in you, she or he won’t hate you for rescheduling for a later time. Another part of trusting yourself is knowing what speed feels right for you. Don’t feel obligated to go somewhere private or unfamiliar just because the other person wants to. Again, you know yourself best and you have enough life experience to know when something could end badly: listen to yourself.
- Meet new people in public. It seems obvious, but you shouldn’t bring total strangers back to your house (nor should you go to theirs). When scheduling a first meeting, plan to go somewhere public where a lot of people will be milling around. A park, restaurant, or museum can be great areas for public first dates not only because they are public, but because they are places where you can actually talk to your date and get to know him or her in person. When you have a first date with someone, make sure that you are in control of your own transportation situation by driving yourself, taking a trusted form of transit, or arranging a ride with a good friend. Don’t rely on your date to take you somewhere. Getting in a car with someone you barely know is not a great idea!
- Tell somewhere where you are going. In case the worst does happen (it probably won’t, but it never hurts to be prepared), make sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back. Let a good friend know that you are going on a date with someone new and agree to check in with them by a certain time so that they know you are okay. You might also set up a pick up spot in case you need your friend to pick you up if you need to bail on your date for any reason.
Online dating isn’t all about being cynical and mistrusting, of course, but taking precautions when meeting someone new will make it all the better when you meet someone who you want to get to know better. Anyone who is worth getting to know will be empathetic to your safety concerns and willing to work with you within your comfort zone.
Angie Picardo is a writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website dedicated to helping you protect and save your money whether in online dating or finding the best options for LAX parking.