You see the commercials all the time, touting that "more relationships begin online now than ever before." The couples are smiling, they laugh in unison, they finish one another's sentences, they know when to gaze longingly into each other's eyes... thanks to the director on the other side of the camera.
The commercials can make online dating seem as safe as walking to your mailbox. As in all things, however, there is a caveat - you never know who is on the other side of your correspondence. So here are 5 online dating safety tips to keep you out of harm's way at the outset of your online dating journey.
1. Never, ever give out personal contact information in your profile or to someone you have never met.
Your personal information is anything that would allow someone to find you. Do not divulge where you work, the make and/or model of your car, your personal email address, your parents names, your veterinarian... you get the idea. If someone asks you for more information than you're comfortable giving out, you can simply smile and say "why do you want to know?" If they persist, cease communication.
2. Use a free email service like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo to set up an alternate email address that you only use for online dating.
When you have a separate email address, this keeps people from using Google to track down what your last purchase was on eBay or finding the last comment you left in the Rift forum. This will also protect your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts from being viewed by someone who doesn't really know you. And speaking of social media...
3. Double check your privacy settings on Facebook.
Ensure that your profile is only visible to the people you want to be able to see it. When you log in to Facebook, click on the "Account" link in the upper right corner, and choose "Privacy Settings." There's a little link below the list that appears that says "Customize Settings." Choose that, and change it to "Friends Only" for as much or as little as you want.
4. Always tell a trusted friend about who you're talking to online.
If someone gives me an email address and we begin corresponding outside of the dating site environment, I tell one of my girlfriends, and I make sure to tell the prospect that my girlfriends are aware of his existence. This also provides the opportunity for guidance and advice on the part of your friends. They can be your guardian angels in helping you interview prospects.
5. Never assume you know someone because you have traded emails.
Human beings have this quality called “imagination,” and sometimes it leads them to embellishing upon their true reality (some would call it lying, but I try not to be negative about people whom I've never met). Never presume that someone is telling you the truth. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and if your intuition is giving you a nudge that someone isn't for you, listen to it.
Safe and happy online dating experiences begin with common sense. Stay grounded, stay focused on what you're looking for and step forward.