Online dating apps have become one of the most common methods of finding a romantic partner, and also for making new friends as an adult. However, many people still have concerns when taking their newly-formed relationships that step further, especially meeting in person.
It is important to stay safe and vigilant when online to ensure you are finding genuine connections, which is why we teamed up with Alan Mackenzie, online safety specialist at Esafety-adviser, to explain the steps you can take to keep your own information safe and spot any warning signs.
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Creating a safe online network
Alan explained: “When it comes to creating your profile, consider very carefully what you reveal about yourself and your intent. You want potential matches to know a little about you but not too much; equally, you want potential matches to know whether you want friendship or other form of relationship.
“Within your profile, show your personality both in your images, profile text or answers to questions, but not to the extent you are revealing private and personal information. It’s a subjective area; some people are happy to be quite open, others not so much, but it’s important to put some thought into what you reveal about yourself, such as:
- Your real full name or a pseudonym to add an extra layer of privacy.
- Your true age or 1-2 years either side.
- Your address/local area or a more generic geographic area.
- Your home or mobile phone numbers.
- Many apps recommend between 3-5 images to increase your chances of a good match. Before you use these photos, pinch, zoom and check that you aren’t giving anything away, e.g. is that your credit card on the table, your calendar in the background?
“Finally, familiarize yourself with the privacy and any safety settings. Adjust accordingly so that you control what is visible to others.”
Profile red flags
“The profile an individual uses is a gateway, a means to get you to engage, so it’s important to be aware of any red flags, for example the classic gut instinct; is it too good to be true? This is the best, most instinctive defence mechanism you have.
“Some will use their real name on their profile; some will use a pseudonym. Do a quick Google search to see if you can find them, perhaps on other social media platforms. Do they come across to you as the same person depicted in their profile and pics, or are there inconsistencies?
“Are their profile pics good quality or poor quality, do they all look like the same person or taken at a distance so you can’t tell? If their pictures appear fake, you could consider a Google reverse image search using one or more of their profile pics, as it has been known for people to copy and paste pics from the internet as profile pics.”
“The time will come when you have a match, and you want to strike up a conversation to get to know each other better. This is a great way of digging a little deeper to find out more about the person, but unlike face-to-face where we have certain social cues such as eye movements, facial and body expressions, when we are messaging from behind a screen there can be a tendency to reply quickly, not giving us a lot of time to think.
“Don’t rush to reply, take a few moments to think about what you want to say. Equally, if someone is bombarding you with questions about you, your private and personal life, ask yourself why they are asking all these questions. Are they just naturally curious, perhaps a little insecure, or are they being pushy and getting you to reveal details? It’s totally fine to share about your hobbies, your interests, thoughts and opinions but don’t feel under pressure: that’s a big red flag.
“Again, your gut instinct plays a big part in this; if you are feeling uncomfortable then leave, you are in control.
“Other things to consider would be:
- Is their story consistent and does the image they portray of themselves on their profile reflect in their messaging?
- Are they asking for money or financial help? Romance scams are a significant concern on dating apps and offenders will go to great lengths to gain your trust.
- Are they asking for inappropriate images or videos, are you comfortable with this? Consent requires a lot of trust and you can remove consent at any time, and if you feel pressured or just not sure then don’t share.
- Where possible, keep any conversations on the platform, don’t be lured into giving details of other social media profiles, phone numbers etc. unless you are comfortable to do so.
- If you have agreed to chat on video camera, are they showing their face or is there some excuse why they can’t be on camera?”
“There may come a time when you wish to meet up with someone. This can be an exciting but equally nervous time, so make any boundaries politely clear.
"It’s vitally important to meet at a public venue such as a café, restaurant or public park. If you don’t want to take a chaperone, ensure that someone knows where you are and who you are expected to be with, send them a screenshot of the person’s profile if you wish. You could even ask them to call or message you at a certain time to check that everything is okay or let them know what time you will be home so that they can check. If you’re going to stay out later, let them know.
“Being nervous or excited may lead to drinking more alcohol than we expected, so you need to be wary of this. If someone is trying to get you to drink alcohol, or drink more than you are comfortable with, that should be a red flag.
Remember to SWIPE
“There’s a lot to consider, particularly if you are new to this, but remember that you are always in control so a simple mnemonic to help would be SWIPE:
- S – Secure your personal and private information, be mindful of what you are sharing in your profile and subsequent conversations.
- W – Watch for red flags. Use your gut instinct; if something feels off it’s probably best to steer clear.
- I – Investigate profiles. Anybody can be anybody online; take some time to verify profiles and, if possible, use online search tools such as Google to check profile names and reverse image search to check the authenticity of images.
- P – Public meetings. If you decide to meet in person, always opt for a public setting and ensure a close friend or family member knows where you are going, at what time, and when you are expected home. You could also consider a chaperone. Cafes, parks and public events are ideal for that first meeting.
- E - Exit if uncomfortable. If at any point you are feeling uncomfortable, either in an online conversation or face-to-face, then leave.”
Being confident and assured while online dating is the first step to meeting new people. It’s also important to ensure your phone is in good working order when meeting people for the first time. If you have an iPhone or are looking for some general charging tips, our guide will help you maintain its battery life for longer.