More than 40 million Americans use online dating services or dating apps. As is the case when meeting someone new, whether online or offline, it’s wise to keep a few safety precautions in mind. Dating apps don’t conduct criminal background checks on users, so it’s up to each user to determine if they are comfortable meeting up with someone. However, it is important to remember that if you do experience sexual assault or violence while dating online or using an app, it is not your fault.
Below are some steps you can take to increase your safety when interacting with others through online dating apps and services—whether you are interacting virtually or in person. Like any safety tips, they are not a guarantee, but they may help you feel more secure.
When Connecting Online
Use different photos for your dating profile. It’s easy to do a reverse image search with Google. If your dating profile has a photo that also shows up on your Instagram or Facebook account, it will be easier for someone to find you on social media.
Avoid connecting with suspicious profiles. If the person you matched with has no bio, linked social media accounts, and has only posted one picture, it may be a fake account. It’s important to use caution if you choose to connect with someone you have so little information about.
Check out your potential date on social media. If you know your match’s name or handles on social media—or better yet if you have mutual friends online—look them up and make sure they aren’t “catfishing” you by using a fake social media account to create their dating profile.
Block and report suspicious users. You can block and report another user if you feel their profile is suspicious or if they have acted inappropriately toward you. This can often be done anonymously before or after you’ve matched. As with any personal interaction, it is always possible for people to misrepresent themselves. Trust your instincts about whether you feel someone is representing themself truthfully or not.
The list below offers a few examples of some common stories or suspicious behaviors scammers may use to build trust and sympathy so they can manipulate another user in an unhealthy way.
- Asks for financial assistance in any way, often because of a sudden personal crisis
- Claims to be from the United States but is currently living, working, or traveling abroad
- Claims to be recently widowed with children
- Disappears suddenly from the site then reappears under a different name
- Gives vague answers to specific questions
- Overly complimentary and romantic too early in your communication
- Pressures you to provide your phone number or talk outside the dating app or site
- Requests your home or work address under the guise of sending flowers or gifts
- Tells inconsistent or grandiose stories
- Uses disjointed language and grammar, but has a high level of education
Examples of user behavior you may want to report can include:
- Requests financial assistance
- Requests photographs
- Is a minor
- Sends harassing or offensive messages
- Attempts to threaten or intimidate you in any way
- Seems to have created a fake profile
- Tries to sell you products or services
Wait to Share Personal Information. Never give someone you haven’t met with in person your personal information, including your: social security number, credit card details, bank information, or work or home address. Dating apps and websites will never send you an email asking for your username and password information, so if you receive a request for your login information, delete it and consider reporting.
Don’t Respond to Requests for Financial Help. No matter how convincing and compelling someone’s reason may seem, never respond to a request to send money, especially overseas or via wire transfer. If you do get such a request, report it to the app or site you’re using immediately. For more information, check out the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s tips on avoiding online dating scams.
When Meeting in Person
Video chat before you meet up in person. Once you have matched with a potential date and chatted, consider scheduling a video chat with them before meeting up in person for the first time. This can be a good way to help ensure your match is who they claim to be in their profile. If they strongly resist a video call, that could be a sign of suspicious activity.
Tell a friend where you’re going. Take a screenshot of your date’s profile and send it to a friend. Let at least one friend know where and when you plan to go on your date. If you continue your date in another place you hadn’t planned on, text a friend to let them know your new location. It may also be helpful to arrange to text or call a friend partway through the date or when you get home to check in.
Meet in a public place. For your first date, avoid meeting someone you don’t know well yet in your home, apartment, or workplace. It may make both you and your date feel more comfortable to meet in a coffee shop, restaurant, or bar with plenty of other people around. Avoid meeting in public parks and other isolated locations for first dates.
Don’t rely on your date for transportation. It’s important that you are in control of your own transportation to and from the date so that you can leave whenever you want and do not have to rely on your date in case you start feeling uncomfortable. Even if the person you’re meeting volunteers to pick you up, avoid getting into a vehicle with someone you don’t know and trust, especially if it’s the first meeting.
Have a few ride share apps downloaded on your phone so in case one is not working when you need it, you’ll have a backup. Make sure you have data on your phone and it’s fully charged, or consider bringing your charger or a portable battery with you.
Stick to what you’re most comfortable with. There’s nothing wrong with having a few drinks on a date. Try to keep your limits in mind and do not feel pressured to drink just because your date is drinking. It can also be a good idea to avoid taking drugs before or during a first date with someone new because drugs could alter your perception of reality or have unexpected interactions with alcohol.
Enlist the help of a bartender or waiter. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, it can help to find an advocate nearby. You can enlist the help of a waiter or bartender to help you create a distraction, call the police, or get a safe ride home.
Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts and feel free to leave a date or cut off communication with whoever is making you feel unsafe. Do not worry about feeling rude—your safety is most important, and your date should understand that.
If you felt uncomfortable or unsafe during the date, remember you can always unmatch, block, or report your match after meeting up in person which will keep them from being able to access your profile in the future.
Online Dating Safety Tips: Before, During, and After The First Date
There are lots of things we could say about love. In the Bible, we’re told that “love is patient, love is kind”. That 1970s band Nazareth insists that “Love Hurts” (we’d like to think that it doesn’t and shouldn’t, but we’re not here to judge Nazareth or you).
Shakespeare would have us believe that “all is fair in love and war”, which may or may not be true depending on your how strictly you define war crimes.
Like everything in life, it’s up for debate.
What isn’t up for debate is that, when it comes to being safe while navigating the maze that is finding romance in the modern world, your safety is serious business… especially when it comes to your online dating safety.
That said, you don’t have to live in fear. You’re more likely to encounter a guy with bad breath than you are to match with a kidnapper — but even so, it’s important to put your health and security before anything, so that you can focus on having fun and finding love… or something like it.
Here are our tips on how to stay safe while you strike up romance.
Before Your First Date
So, you’ve managed to score a date! That’s awesome news. Go you!
That said, before you head off to whisper sweet nothings into the ears of your potential love interest, it’s a good idea to take a couple of basic precautions to ensure that you have a fun and safe time. Here are a few ideas.
Get Your Date’s Phone Number
Dating apps are great for making initial connections, but they aren’t always great for maintaining anything beyond that initial spark.
While you might think that this isn’t a problem — maybe you’re just after a quick hook-up, or maybe you’re extremely confident that this date is going to lead to something more — the fact is that you should definitely make a point to get your date’s number before meeting up with them in person.
For one thing, it’s a good practice when meeting anyone in general.
For your safety and your date’s, you should have their name associated with a reliable contact number. That way, in case anything happens to you or them, you have access to information that can make all the difference between twisting in the wind in confusion or being able to track down solid answers.
Not to mention, should anything bad happen to you or them, that information will be much harder to get if you’re unable to reach them — and app companies are not typically forthcoming with such information except in extraordinary cases. And, even then, they can be assholes.
As you’re getting to know your potential date considering moving your flirtations out of the digital world and into physical space, we recommend asking for their number so you can chat on the phone, text in a more “focused” environment or even do a little video chatting. That way, you have a way to reach them outside of the app and — just in case things take a negative or dangerous turn — you’re empowered with some of the information you need to take action.
While this isn’t necessarily the most romantic thing to be thinking about, it’s an important precaution to keep in mind… and we’d argue that there’s nothing sexier than being empowered enough to know you’re dating safely.
Run a Background Check
There was a time when online dating and background check platforms were completely incompatible. There was also a time where meeting people online was mostly unthinkable. Now, we use our cell phones to summon mysterious drivers from the ether to transport us to and from encounters with romantic interests we met via a swiping function on an app. Modern life is really something else.
That said, just as our sensibilities about online dating and meeting up with relative strangers have evolved, so too has our ability to make sure that we’re a little bit safer as we’re navigating the wild world of 21st-century romance.
Enter Garbo — a powerful background check solution that stands above the rest because, unlike other platforms, it doesn’t require a last name to perform a comprehensive search about the person you’re meeting up with. Simply provide a first name, a phone number and — boom! — you’ve got a mini crime encyclopedia about the person you’re planning to go out with. That information can go a long way toward ensuring your safety.
While running a background check might seem a little The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo-ish at first, consider this: much of the time, domestic violence offenders repeat their behaviors across a series of relationships. People with documented substance abuse issues may not disclose this information to you (which is a reasonable impulse, but still important for you to know as this can be a trigger for you), and, in general, it’s just good to have as much information about the person you’re going to meet up with as possible before going into the situation.
Knowledge is power, after all, and the more empowered you are as you navigating romantic life, the better suited you’ll be to making informed, agentive decisions about how to run your life. Who doesn’t want that?
While this isn’t necessarily the most romantic thing to be thinking about, it’s an important precaution to keep in mind… and we’d argue that there’s nothing sexier than being empowered enough to know you’re dating safely.
More on Background Checks
As mentioned before, background checks can reveal a variety of things about a person’s past. With a Garbo background check, you’ll learn about their criminal history including convictions, arrests, and police reports*. You might find some very unexpected and telling results and you might find that the person you’re talking to has as tidy a past on paper as anyone you’ve ever met.
Either way, it’s important to keep in mind that even a background check can’t paint the full picture of a person’s life.
Most background check systems rely on — and are limited by — their access to public records. That access varies by state and a number of other granular rules, which means that there may be criminal activity in your potential date’s past that you can’t see because of a local statute. That said, Garbo works a little bit differently, by aiming to provide full-funnel reporting of someone’s criminal record. The platform can give you quite a bit more insight than most, but even so, it’s not without its own limitations. After all, many gender-based crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence are not reported.
To learn more about Garbo, its features and how you can use it in your own life, click here.
*While we aim to provide full-funnel criminal information, our system is not infallible nor guaranteed complete. If you know someone has a criminal record, you can submit information to use to help our systems.
Conduct An Online Search
By this point in the article, we hope you’ve abandoned any reticence about doing some much-needed sleuthing about your dates. If so, welcome to the fold, detective! We’ve got more work to do.
Whether you conduct a background check or not (and we’d like to reiterate that you definitely should), it’s a good idea to learn more about your date from sources other than your personal interactions and whatever did — or didn’t — make it on their rap sheet. Fortunately, in 2019, most people are very online, and for that reason, you may have the opportunity to learn quite a bit about your date through something as simple as a cursory Google search.
If you’re lucky enough to have gotten their full name and a number of other details (like their job or alma mater, for example), or if a result pops on Garbo, you should be able to find them simply by typing that information into the search bar. You can also try using one of their photos from their dating profile to conduct a reverse image search. That might help direct you to other profiles, from which you can gather even more information.
Let’s Not Forget Social Media
Once you’ve found a number of other social profiles (LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook are great places to start), you can start learning more about your date… if their profiles aren’t more locked down than Fort Knox, that is — or otherwise devoid of information.
At the very least, you should be able to verify that the person you’ve been chatting with online is indeed who they say they are and that they haven’t been catfishing you. If you’re lucky, however, you should be able to glean somebody’s last name (an important factor you’ll want to get a hold of at some point no matter what), their place of employment, and more in-depth things like the kinds of opinions they express on social media, mutual connections you might share, and anything else that might be of concern.
As we mentioned previously, you’re not “stalking” this person. You aren’t engaging in a campaign of harassment or unethical contact. You are finding information about them that is germane to your safety. If a potential partner is posting thoughts that you find alarming, it’s better to know that before you meet up with them. If a potential partner is misleading you about their identity in any way, that should probably come up well before you meet up with them face-to-face and potentially put your safety in their hands.
Tap Into the Knowledge of Mutual Contacts
Nowadays, some online dating matching algorithms lean heavier on friends-of-friends than others. This is great news, as it gives you an awareness of social affinities your match might have with people you work or socialize with. These people can be key sources of information about the person you’re about to go out with.
If, as you’re conducting your pre-date research, you find that you have a couple of connections in common, it’s not a bad idea to reach out to those friends to ask them more about the person you might be going out on a date with. You don’t necessarily have to disclose your connection to the person you’re going out with at length — you can simply ask a couple of seemingly innocuous questions about them.
Then again, it might not hurt to simply say: “I’m thinking of going on a date with So-and-So. What can you tell me about them?”
Generally speaking, people will speak glowingly of their friends — but if there are red flags that they think you should know about (for example: he’s in a serious, live-in relationship someone right now), you may discover as much by taking this direct approach. If your date catches wind of this, they shouldn’t mind. If they do, they’re probably not someone you should be seeing.
Use the Planning Phase to Your Advantage
So, you’ve gathered all of the research and weighed all of the pros and cons. You’ve decided that you’re in. This person is who you want to go on a date with, and you’re excited to make the big day happen. Now it’s off to the races — right?
There are still a couple of precautions you should take in the interest of safety before meeting up in person. These last steps will establish a grate safety framework that will ensure that, whatever happens, it’s happening on your terms in a way that provides either maximum comfort or the opportunity for a graceful exit without further incident.
Make Your Date for an Off Day and Time
Friday night and weekend dates are classic — and we totally understand the instinct to lean on them, as that’s usually when most people are free. Before you make that choice, however, consider the following…
What if the date totally sucks? What if you bailed on your friends to go see this guy who turned out to be a total jerk? Even if you manage to leave safely (which you should; don’t stick around for a date that just isn’t working out), do you really want to ruin a Friday night or weekend with such a bad experience?
We recommend choosing an off-day during the midweek, at an earlier point in the evening.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to catch breakfast or coffee together, it does mean that you might consider going for happy hour bites and sips early on in the evening so that, in case things aren’t going well, you can get out of there — without sacrificing your night, your weekend or your mental health and safety. Splitting while it’s still light out, for example, will probably make you feel a lot safer than bailing on a bad date late at night.
Always Pick the Place
Speaking of keeping the ball in your court, we recommend that you be very assertive about choosing the location of your encounter. While you’re at it, we recommend that you be very mindful of safety in choosing said location.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to choose a date spot that is bright, and busy like a restaurant or a public outdoor space. Such locations tend to have better lighting and a more populous clientele than bars, meaning that if anything goes wrong, there may be people around to vouch for you. Bars, on the other hand, tend to be darkly lit, and not exactly conducive to reliable memories. For that reason, we suggest avoiding them, even if you’re just meeting up for drinks.
Another tip? Try to skip inviting your date to places at which you’re a regular, unless you’re very confident that your memory of that date — should it go wrong — won’t ruin the place for you. Just think: what if your date starts loving the place as much as you do? That’s great if you guys fall in love… But what if you don’t?
During the First Meeting
The research has been conducted. The date has been set. The particular are in place… and now, the fated day has come. You’re finally meeting up with your date in person. That’s all very exciting!
That said, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that all of the butterflies in your stomach are from romantic excitement and not from uncertainty-ridden anxiety. Here are steps you can take to combat that anxiety and further ensure your safety.
Tell a Friend All of the Details
Not everyone wants to put themselves out there or to share the details about their dating life with others. That’s perfectly understandable. However, it’s still a good idea for you to have at least one person in your network that you feel comfortable disclosing important details about your activities and whereabouts to, not only for emotional support (should you need it; dating is hard!) but also for the sake of safety.
When you head out for your date, make sure that trusted friend knows your date’s name, phone number, where you’re going, and what time you should be home. That way, should anything be amiss, your friend can check in on you and make sure that you’re okay.
If your plans change throughout the evening, make sure that you update your friend about that so that they can rest easy knowing that everything is going well — or intervene if it’s not.
Remember: Get Your Date’s Last Name
If you haven’t taken the time to get your date’s last name, now’s the time to do it. There are a variety of ways to do this — we recommend simply giving them yours and asking theirs — but the point is that you need to collect this information, and then text it to your friend immediately.
Use An App That Tracks Your Location
Suppose you aren’t sure how reliable you’ll be at checking your phone or keeping your friend updated about your whereabouts and activities throughout the night. While that’s not ideal, it’s perfectly understandable. Fortunately, you can build additional layers into your personal safety plan to make sure that you’re accounted for no matter where you go or what you do.
One precaution you can take to ensure your safety is to take advantage of the GPS that your smartphone is likely equipped with.
There are variety of native and third-party location tracking apps you can take advantage of on your date night. On the iPhone, for example, you can share contacts for a predetermined period with a chosen contact so that they can check on you and make sure you’re where you said you planned to be (just make sure you let them know that they can do this and how just in case they aren’t aware). Other apps, like Noonlight (one of the best-known), can be even more reliable because they’re built with the express purpose of keeping track of your location and retaining a cloud-based history of your movements should anything happen to you.
Trust Your Gut
The intuition is a very powerful thing, and beyond any “woo”, the fact is that our bodies and subconscious minds frequently cue us in on red flags that may not be readily apparent to us by subtly engaging our fight-or-flight response or raising our proverbial hackles. These are the “gut” feelings people typically refer to when they say that their dealings with a person don’t quite feel right, and more often than you might think, these gut feelings deserve to be observed.
If something doesn’t feel right, probably it isn’t.
Some obvious red flags that should immediately turn you off about your date include lies about their age, height (give them the half an inch or so…masculinity can be so toxic) or other basic details. While matters of their appearance or other factors shouldn’t necessarily be deal breakers, the fact that they deceived you — and their willingness to do so — should be alarming enough for you to rethink maintaining a personal relationship with them.
Other red flags can be abound.
How much are they drinking? How much are they encouraging you to drink? Do they seem to hold opinions that are problematic to you — that are deal breakers? Maybe they are just being pushy about broaching topics you’re not ready to get into yet, or expressing some discomfort at your tendency to text your friend updates about what you’re doing.
Regardless, if they make you feel like things might not be on the up-and-up, or if you have to question whether or not you feel comfortable with this person, it’s reasonable to conclude that maybe it’s time to bring the date to a close.
Have an Excuse Ready
Maybe you don’t feel safe on your date. Maybe there just doesn’t seem to be any chemistry, and you’re tired of wasting your precious time on this planet with this person. In either case, it’s a best practice to have a good ace in the hole so you can split on this person and go about your business. There are a couple of ways to do this, but we prefer the tried and true “emergency friend intervention method”.
Remember that friend you were sharing the details about your date with? Here’s another way they can come in handy. Work with them, prior to the date, to come up with an emergency “get me out of here” phrase that you can send to them when sharing the details about your date. Let them know that if they text you this phrase, they should know to immediately call you in a panic, asking you to come to wherever they are as soon as possible. If that friend is your mom — or someone capable of playing that role effectively — even better!
Think About Going Home Alone
While we wouldn’t presume to make any rules about the way you live your life, we are committed to empowering you to be safe and to make choices that you can ultimately feel good about. For that reason, we’d like to suggest that, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with or bad about going home with someone on the first date, you might consider refraining from doing so — contrary to the raging persuasions of your hormones.
It’s not that you shouldn’t want to sleep with whoever you’d like — it’s that you might not want to let someone know where you live and how to get in on the first night of knowing them, or find yourself feeling unfamiliar at their place either. You don’t know what weird situation they might be walking you into at their place, and it might be harder to get help if you need it when you’re at home alone with someone you don’t know well.
If you do choose to sleep with someone on the first date, consider choosing a safe, neutral location like a hotel — where security is close by and where you don’t have to worry about a relative stranger knowing you address just in case anything goes awry.
After the First Date
So, your date is complete. Successful or not, you’ve made it through your first encounter with someone you met online. Whether you’re feeling like love is in the air or thinking it’s time to cut this one loose, there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you wrap up your evening.
Let Your Friend Know You’re Safe
Presuming that you’ve made it home or to wherever else you planned to be — away from your date and up to your own devices — it’s a good idea to set your friend’s mind at ease by letting them know the date is over and that you’re off doing your own thing. Thank them for looking out for you, offer to do the same for them if it applies, and call it a night.
Set Up Another Date in a Public Space
While it’s great that the first date is over, do keep in mind that there’s still probably a lot about your partner that you don’t know. If that’s the case, consider setting up date number two — if there is to be one — much in the same way that you set up the first one. This will keep the ball in your court as you take the time to watch your relationship grow.
Feeling Empowered with Our Online Dating Safety Tips?
When all is said and done, making sure you’re safe in the world of modern dating can be labor intensive. Even so, it’s a worth investment of your time, as it can save you a lot of headaches and other difficulties later down the line and — if you encounter red flags sooner rather than later — you can also save yourself some serious time. Ultimately, that’s a win-win.
With so many fish in the proverbial sea of dating, it’s probably a good idea to filter for the kind you want to deal with. Using our methods, you can do just that. So happy fishing — let’s hope you find an epic catch.