5 Tips for Safe Online Dating

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Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and this time of year, online dating sites tend to see a spike in membership. Online dating has certainly moved in to the mainstream and has grown considerably in popularity.

According to research conducted at the University of Chicago, more than one third of marriages from 2005 to 2012 began using an online matching service. I have personally been to four weddings of blissfully happy couples who met using online dating services. In a time when we are busier than ever, these services are a great way to meet and date potential mates. And it can work.

However, when using one of these services, safety is one of the most important things to consider. Most people using these sites are on them for the same reason you are: to meet their life partner. But not everyone is, and it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself from those who might not have your best interest in mind. Unfortunately, there are many cases of scams or even violent crimes perpetrated against online daters — don’t let it happen to you.

Follow these five tips and rest assured that you will date and safely and successfully.

1. Do not post photographs of children in your profile.

It is obviously okay and even recommended to state in your profile that you have children but do not use photos of you with children, even if they are your own. Dating websites are even more open to everyone on the Internet than social media sites. When I was working exploitation of children cases as a forensic analyst, there were occasions where I found that alleged suspects browsed through dating sites looking specifically for photographs of women with children. It is just better for the safety of your children to keep them off your dating site.

2. Do not use personal identifying information in your profile.

This includes your real name, address and phone number. When you take photos that you’ll use in your profile, turn off EXIF data on your camera. EXIF means is Exchangeable Image File, which contains data about the camera that took the photograph, such as the exact geographic coordinates where the photo was taken. EXIF data can be easily deciphered by anybody. You don’t know who will be looking at your photographs, and you don’t want to give away any identifying information that could be used to determine where you live or your comings and goings.

3. Pick a unique username that you have not used on other social media sites or blogs.

You don’t want for everyone with access to your dating site to be able to search your social media accounts and find personal information about you. Also, don’t post photos you’ve used on other social media sites. A person with bad intentions could use an image searching tool and find exact image matches on your multiple social media sites.

4. Always video chat or conduct a phone call before meeting a new potential date in person.

I understand that you may feel as though you “know” a person you’ve been communicating with online, but you don’t. When someone is communicating with you through online messages or email, it can be difficult to gauge potential danger signs because they have had time to craft a perfect response. When you speak in real time, it is much harder to hide negative personality traits.

5. Conduct your first meeting in a public place.

If there is a problem, it is a lot easier to get away or ask for help if you are in surrounded by other people. It’s also to let a friend or relative know where you will be meeting.

So, this Valentine’s Day, use these five tips to ensure that everything’s smooth sailing as you surf the ‘net, hoping to catch the best fish in the sea.  Happy dating!

Tyler Cohen Wood is a Cyber Branch Chief at the Department of Defense (DoD). She has 14+ years of experience with Cyber forensics, supporting DoD and law enforcement. In her upcoming book, Catching the Catfishers: Disarm the Online Pretenders, Predators, and Perpetrators Who Are Out to Ruin Your Life, she discusses privacy and how to protect yourself online.

All views are my own and do not in any way reflect those of my employing agency or the United States Government.

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