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Online Dating Can Be Scary. These Expert Tips Will Help You Stay Safe

 Online Dating Can Be Scary. These Expert Tips Will Help You Stay Safe

If you or someone you know is affected by sexual abuse, assault or family violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor. In an emergency, call 911.

My experience on dating apps was a tale as old as time. Girl signs up for dating app, matches with Boy, messages him for a few days, then agrees to meet for coffee. Boy looks nothing like his profile, so Girl makes up an excuse to leave and later sends a nice message saying it wasn’t him, it was her. (It was definitely him.) 

If my story sounds familiar, you must have used dating apps at some point. 

Online dating is rarely a fairytale. While there are some people who have found their happily ever after by swiping right, online dating is more like the Wild West: It has inherent dangers, unsavory characters and propels you toward potentially risky behavior. 

Of course, dating apps didn’t invent the risks that come with dating. But online sites and apps make dating even more complicated, particularly when it comes to sexual violence, said Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one of the US’ largest organizations devoted to addressing sexual violence. More than three out of four sexual assaults are committed by someone the person knows, Berkowitz said, and a significant number of those start in social situations like parties or dates.

At the same time, about 30% of Americans have used a dating site or app — up to 53% for adults under 30 — and nearly half of all users have experienced some kind of harassment, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center study. People of all genders and sexual identities experience online sexual harassment, with higher rates for women and for people in the LGBTQ+ community.

Though dating online comes with unavoidable risks, there are things you can do to help keep yourself safe. Based on expert advice and tried-and-true experience, this is my guide to staying safe while swiping right.

Limit what you share in your profile

Choosing the right amount of information to share in a dating profile can be tricky. Your first instinct might be to answer every prompt to get the most compatible matches. But that could put you at risk. Keeping your information very general and maintaining as much anonymity as possible is best, Berkowitz said, especially when it comes to info about where you live, your employer and your kids.

  • Avoid posting your job title and employer. Consider using your industry instead.
  • Don’t use your exact location. Choose a nearby big city, or keep it even more general.
  • Closely inspect the pictures you use. What’s in the background? Avoid showing anything that could be a clue to where you live or work.
  • Consider using different pictures than the ones on your other social media pages.

Many of these tips are designed to keep your personal information private, and they also help create a degree of separation between your dating profile and the rest of your online presence. If, for instance, you use different pictures on Tinder than on Instagram, a potential Tinder match won’t be able to use a reverse image search to find your Instagram feed. 

If your dating profile easily leads matches to your other social media pages, you might be accidentally sharing more information than you’re comfortable with. Linking your online accounts with similar names, photos and locations can serve as a virtual roadmap that bad actors can use to find you in real life. You might, for example, tell your match you enjoy chai lattes, but if they can find you on Snapchat and you’ve geotagged your favorite coffee shop in a Snapchat story, you’ve indirectly told them where you go to get the goods. Building in degrees of separation — and changing your social media accounts to private — helps secure you.

On the other hand, it would be unrealistic to think you yourself aren’t going to try to dig up some info on potential matches online — I’ve done it, and you’ve likely Googled someone, too. And it isn’t always a bad idea. Social media is a great way to confirm that your match is who they say they are, and to spot potential red flags, according to security company ADT. Even if they have their information and accounts secured, doing a quick online search can be a good way to rule out a match as a potential scammer, bot or other undesirable character.

Regarding data privacy, dating apps are like any other online service, meaning you should take precautions to secure your personal information. Because they store massive quantities of personal data, dating apps are targets for cybercriminals. Some of these platforms have also previously come under fire for their handling of user data. You can protect yourself by sharing only necessary contact information, using a unique password and turning on two-factor authentication when available.

Avoid problems by keeping your conversations on the app

Ideally, trustworthy dating apps make the privacy and safety of their users top priorities. Many popular dating apps create tools like block and report functions, community guidelines, and even algorithms designed to spot trolls and bad actors. But unsavory people still manage to slip through, and they’re likely to try to get you away from the platform’s protections quickly.

There are many possible indicators that a given user of a dating app might be a scammer. Security company Aura recommends taking a closer look at a user’s profile to avoid matching with a potential scammer. Missing or very little information is a red flag, and photos that are “supermodel” or “magazine” worthy might indicate a fake account as well. If you can’t find them on social media or elsewhere online, that may also be a red flag. Another useful tactic is asking your match for a video call, cybersecurity company Kaspersky said — scammers won’t want to show you their face. While any one of these things may not mean a match is a scammer, a combination of them is worrisome.

Read more: How to Avoid a Romance Scam and Protect Your Money

Tinder, Hinge and Bumble all warn against quickly moving off the apps, for good reason. When you leave the app for an encrypted messaging service like WhatsApp or Signal, scammers don’t have to worry about things like the platform’s safe message filters, which scan and flag suspicious content. Then they can present you with an investment scheme or financial scam. Back on the dating app, they’ve likely already unmatched you, so you can’t report them. Keeping your initial conversations on the app avoids this. 

I always advise my friends to wait to give out their phone numbers until they meet their matches in real life — in case their dates don’t pass the vibe check or a second meetup just doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards. And please, never send money to someone you meet on a dating app. 

Make a game plan with your friends

One of the most common safety tips for dating is to ensure that someone besides you knows your plan. This is particularly important when you’re meeting an online date in person for the first time. 

Telling your friends where you’re going, who you’re meeting and when they should expect to hear from you again are all essential to looping them into your plan. This is something my friends and I do, especially for first dates, and those quick texts are an easy way to keep some peace of mind. You can also set up a time during the date for a friend to call, check in and offer you a graceful exit. Online dating is a team sport!

ADT recommends sharing your smartphone location, for an extra layer of security. This quick guide from CNET on how to share your location on an iPhone or an Android device can help you set things up so friends and family can find you if need be.

Follow the age-old advice

 You might’ve heard these tips before, but they’re repeated for good reason: 

  • Block and report suspicious or unsafe messages or other online behavior.
  • Always meet in public the first time.
  • Arrange your own transportation — give yourself the ability to leave whenever you want.
  • Never leave your drink unattended.
  • If you’re out and feel unsafe, ask the restaurant or bar staff for help.

Bystander intervention is one of the most helpful violence-prevention strategies. “It’s other people seeing something that just doesn’t seem right and subtly stepping in to see if one of the people needs help or a diversion,” Berkowitz said. There’s an increasing trend of hospitality staff, like bartenders and waiters, receiving this kind of training, he added.

Ultimately, if a situation doesn’t feel right, it’s a sign to leave. Trusting your gut instincts is a big part of online dating, and it’s something you get better at over time.

Most of all, it’s important to remember that the right person won’t make you worry about your safety.

“Dating is fun. It’s supposed to be a good thing,” said Berkowitz. “Don’t be overwhelmed by the risk and let it spoil a good experience, but just be conscious of it. Trust your instincts.”

Some additional resources:

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