Safety and Online Dating
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Look for red flags, and do your homework!
An estimated 40 million Americans turn to online dating in hopes of meeting their soul mate or finding that summer fling. As a result, the perception that online dating is safe has slipped into our collective consciousness when, in fact, it sometimes isn’t. Online dating has paved the way for an entirely new world of financial scams, emotional abuse, and even physical danger.
(And although predators come in both sexes, in this piece I will refer to them as men.)
I don’t mean to yuck your yum when you are ready to enter this new world of love via technology. You should do it! But if you are not savvy, it is easy to be duped. There are red flags and precautions to help you stay out of trouble because, let’s face it—you are a single mom, and your kids need you!
With millions of men to choose from in the online-dating world, some are pretending to be different people with different profiles on various sites. In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, 54% of participants said they’d met someone whose profile was misleading. While most people are guilty of using photos or writing profiles that perhaps shine a positive light on the truth, some create sham profiles looking to exploit vulnerable women. (I know. I’ve been there.)
Catfishing is a scam in which someone creates a fake profile with false information in order to trick another person into a relationship. Motives can vary from boredom to revenge to monetary gains or worse. Currently, national victim losses are upward of $60 million per year.
Meanwhile, cyberstalking has become more prevalent than real-world stalking. Advances in technology, GPS tracking, and available information on the Internet has made it easier for predators to locate, surveil, harass, and criminally exploit their victims. In some cases, stalkers will even prey on a victim’s loved ones. It’s a frightening phenomenon that has sadly become a troubling aspect of modern-day life.
But do not let fear deter you! Rest assured, there are common-sense and tangible precautions to take so you can freely explore the world of online dating . . . and have the fun you so rightfully deserve.
Look for warning signs
His social media profiles are private. He doesn’t want you to know something.
He goes dark for large periods of time. He consistently responds to your texts but then doesn’t respond for two days.
You receive a text meant for someone else. Your name is Kathleen, but the text says, “Hey, Clarissa, whatcha wearing?”
He avoids answering personal questions. If he won’t give you his last name, DELETE.
He turns even the most innocent text into a sext. “Hey, Kathleen. What are you up to?” “I’m working.” “Oh, yeah? Are you working in bed?”
He flakes on plans at the last minute. Most likely because his wife came home early from her business trip.
He sends you an unsolicited dick pic. Need I say more?
His idea of a date is to “watch Netflix and chill.” If you don’t already know, this is code for having sex.
When you don’t respond to one of his texts, he sends you 20 more. If you don’t already know, this is code for crazy.
Use a reputable site
With more than 2,500 sites to choose from in the United States, it’s a good idea to stick to those with proven reputations. Ask friends, read reviews, and check into the sites’ security measures. For example, Match.com offers temporary phone numbers so you can talk and text without giving out your personal number.
The major dating sites (Match.com, eHarmony, JDate, Christian Mingle, etc.) now do background checks of potential members, scanning histories for sexual assault, identity theft, and violent crime.
But even with those precautions, things can slip through the cracks. And let’s face it, the security measures are using information given by the potential member. In other words, it’s a good idea to do your own background checking. You haven’t lived until you and your gal pals have done wine and cybersleuthing on a would-be suitor.
Check him out
Google. The first stop for everything.
LinkedIn. You’re not going to get much personal information, but you will get a sense of his work life and whether or not he’s been truthful about it.
Social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Although there are some older gentlemen who perhaps do not partake in this newfangled phenomenon, generally most men do—and unless he’s hiding something, he’ll be there somewhere. (One of my girlfriends, upon some crafty Instagram investigation, discovered the man with whom she’d “made love” the night before was, in fact, in a serious relationship. She contacted the girlfriend via Facebook, and together they taught the lothario what’s what. Needless to say, he is now single and no longer on Instagram.)
Criminal checks. If you want to take your safety search to the next level but don’t have time to jump through the hoops required for a state search, there are actual sites designed specifically for the online dater. With just his name, MyMatchChecker.com, Instant Checkmate, Records.com, or BeenVerified will search multiple databases to find information regarding arrests, convictions, outstanding warrants, court records, and sex offenses.
- Always get to know as much about your date as possible before your initial meeting.
- Drive yourself, meet in a public place, and stay there.
- Never go home with a first date or bring him back to your place. (And if you bring him back to your place while your kids are there, I will personally seek you out and smack you upside your head!)
- Tell a friend where you are going. Better yet, synchronize your mobile tracking devices.
- Do not disclose too much personal information.
- Keep your purse and phone with you at all times.
- Don’t get wasted.
- For a long-distance connection, let him come to you, rent a car, and stay in a hotel . . . then follow the above rules.
- Trust your instincts! Many victims of online predators say they felt something was off but didn’t do anything about it. If your internal voice says, I should get the hell out of here, then get the hell out of there!
Second-date rules and beyond
- Let the relationship grow slowly.
- Keep listening to your gut.
- And do not introduce him to your children unless you are sure he’s a keeper.
Now go, be safe, and have fun! You deserve it!
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.