Online dating: How to stay safe when looking for love on the internet

Online dating
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Finding a date using an online service has become commonplace no matter your age, gender or sexual orientation. Online dating should be fun and exciting, but it's also a good idea to know what you're getting into. There are measures you can take to stay safe if you're one of the millions trying to find love with someone you've never met before. 

As the number of people who use dating services rises, so does the number of undesirables that may not have your best interests at heart. While finding love may be your priority when you log on, keep in mind that not everyone has the same goal. 

We've highlighted ways you can stay alert and careful meeting up with a stranger you've found on a dating site. Here our essential online dating safety tips:

1. Search social media accounts

Tracking down your date on social media is the first line of defense when it comes to staying safe when online dating. 

Profiles often only include a first name and a few details about a person that he or she decides to disclose, such as the school they graduated from, where they live, and where they work. Facebook is a good place to start, as you can filter results using this information. 

You may find your date's social media profile right away, and you may be able to see additional photos and their public posts that may give you a better idea of who they are. If you have friends in common then asking them about that person is also a great way of finding out more. 

Be aware that creating social media profiles with fake names and using other people's photos is very easy, so don't just rely on them.

2. Use a people search service to check out your online date

While social media pages tell the story that someone wants out there, people search services may tell another, very different story. 

People search websites are, in a nutshell, systems in which repositories of digitized public records are associated to names, so the information may not always be correct or associated to the right person. But can also offer an unedited view of a person's past and present.  

By simply searching for your date's name and age or state of residence, you may be able to find a lot more information such as criminal records, past and current addresses and phone numbers, education and work history, known social media profiles, and licenses, liens, and more. 

Generally these people search websites will offer some information for free, such as a person's other known aliases. But this data tends to be very limited, and, if you're planning on searching for a particular piece of information, such as criminal records, you may be prompted to pay. 

Although this step may seem tedious, with some patience, you will likely be able to find the profile of the person you are searching for and find out publicly available information about them.

3. Beware of online dating scams

Online dating

(Image credit: ShutterStock)

Even the most cautious of online daters can fall victim to a conman. 

Online dating scams have become more and more prominent, and you may easily fall victim to a scam if you don't know what clues to look for. Potential partners prey upon sympathy and the hope of finding a life partner to swindle trusting people out of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. 

Individuals who intend to steal from their online dates may display at least some of the following behavioral traits: they claim to have fallen in love quickly, consistently give excuses to not meet in person and to not use video call services, avoid answering personal questions that can be traced back, and refuse to speak about their past. 

These scammers may even talk about their financial woes very early in conversation with a new partner and ask to borrow money, which they promise to return. Use a people search site to verify or debunk some of these claims with at least some amount of certainty, including some of the likely false information provided. 

If you find yourself in this situation, and your new online love refuses to meet, insist on a video call - this request can help save you thousands. 

If you're still worried that someone you're dating online may not be all they seem then check our list of the Best People Search Websites.

4. Stranger danger

People search websites also come in handy for reverse address and phone number searches: look up a phone number, and you may find out who really owns it; look up an address, and you may find out who really lives there. 

Before meeting up, look up the location and the neighborhood of the address provided and let a friend know where you will be going and when. Alternatively, meet your date in a public place and communicate your plans to someone you know and trust. Some restaurants and bars even offer code words to use if you're concerned about your safety during a date. These are often highlighted in the ladies' bathroom. 

Here are some more tips you should follow:

  • Keep your phone charged and on your person at all times. 
  • Have an exit strategy in case you feel uncomfortable or in danger. 
  • Don't leave your personal items or drink unattended. 
  • Try not to make yourself more vulnerable, such as by drinking too much. 
  • Don't let your date drive or walk you home. 

6. Use a safe dating site

Out of the many online dating sites out there, only a few stand out. In our research, we found that some are better for first-timers than others, and some require more information to sign up than others. For a full list of our recommendations, check out our list of the best dating sites to find one that's right for you. 

For the purposes of staying safe, we recommend eharmony, which happens to be the most thorough dating site, and is best for those looking to form a more meaningful connection with a potential partner. Anyone signing up is asked to complete a questionnaire detailing information about them, such as religious beliefs, drinking and smoking habits, race, and desire to have children. There is even a compatibility quiz that can help increase your chances of finding someone you may be very well suited for. 

Much of this information can give you a clearer picture of the person you will be going out with, which can offer some reassurance that you are less likely to step out with an individual who is trying to scam or even hurt you. 

Check out our full review of eharmony for more information. 

7. Lock down your online presence

You'd be surprised by just how much information we inadvertently leave online for anyone to find. Make sure your social media profiles are locked down and not accessible to everyone. Consider turning off location tracking when posting too. Each social media app should have a setting for this. 

Google your name and check that personally identifiable information such as where you live or where you work isn't just waiting there for anyone to find. 

It's also a good rule to not give out your full name or where you work until after you've gotten to know your date a little more. Wait until you're a few dates in before providing information that can allow someone to track you down. If you do find information about yourself you don't want online then try and log into the account and delete it (if it's information you've shared) or contact the website owner and request it be taken down. 

Check out our guide on how to remove your personal information from the internet

Sophie Kaemmerle

Sophie is a born and bred New Yorker who, paradoxically, loves being in the great outdoors. Her favorite pastimes include running, baking, and writing. She also spends her time volunteering and leading volunteer projects with the Good+ Foundation and Achilles International when not providing information on the best deals, products, and services on the internet to TopTenReviews readers.