Navigating life alone often feels difficult. So, many people search for a companion to navigate life alongside. Recently, more and more people turn to dating apps and websites to find a partner or simply companionship. In fact, three in ten adults in the US have used a dating app. But unfortunately, simply creating a profile and swiping through potential matches is often only the beginning of a dating journey. Perhaps you’ve been using dating apps for a few months, or perhaps you’re contemplating signing up for one. Regardless of where you are in the process or whom you’re hoping to find, if you choose to date online, there are a few safety things you should always keep in mind. Be diligent to protect yourself.
Is online dating safe?
Over 57% of female users on dating apps report that another user sent them unwanted sexually explicit messages, and 19% said that they were physically threatened.  Further, in 2020, romance scams on dating apps or sites accounted for a loss of $304 million dollars across the US.  However, although risks for scams and harassment abound, many users are able to still use the app with careful planning.
How do I pick an online dating website or app?
In the US alone, there are over 2,500 dating sites. Each site provides a different opportunity to meet someone, but not all sites protect you in the same way.  Before signing up for a site, do a little digging on how they protect your information and who they let onto the site. Some of the free apps may not be performing background checks or screening for sex offenders. Don’t use a site that tracks your personal location or that allows anyone to message you. Try to find one that allows you to maintain some control. If the app offers you safety education, take advantage of it! Remember that no matter what website or app you use, all come with risks. So, be careful.
How do I safely talk to someone while online dating?
As you get to know someone online or through an app, chat for as long as possible through the online platform, before moving the conversations to texting. In fact, some recommend you avoid giving out your number until after you’ve met in person (see below) or using a texting app instead of your own personal number. As you get to know him, ask general questions, and be wary if he asks you very detailed, personal questions. Especially quickly. Although digitally chatting may initially feel easier, be careful. Also, remember that in today’s digital age, everything you share on a screen can be saved.
As you engage in conversations, clear communication remains key. Decide beforehand what boundaries you want to maintain and express those with your match. As you respect their boundaries, feel empowered to be honest. As you progress in the relationship, continually ‘check-in’ with one another about expectations, boundaries, and communication. 
What are some red flags while online dating?
Unfortunately, not everyone on a dating app will have your best interest in mind. Nor will they be there to find love. In fact, 71% of online dating users say that it’s common for other users to lie about who they are to either appear more desirable or to take advantage of others.  So, watch for these red flags:  
- Someone who works or lives in another country because of business or the military
- Quickly after matching, someone tries to move communication off the dating site
- Someone claims they need money for a bill or an emergency
- Someone quickly professes love or showers you in compliments. (Also known as love-bombing, or the use of strong words of affection early in an online relationship.)
- Your match refuses to video chat.
- Your match requests pictures of you.
- Requests your address to send you gifts or flowers.
- Your match gives vague answers or there are inconsistencies with stories and details.
- A profile has only a few photos and no personal information.  You can also google someone’s profile to see if their pictures or even their answers have been copied and pasted.
If the relationship begins quickly and heats up fast (even just while talking) be wary. If it feels too good to be true, it might be. Trust your gut. If something feels off or wrong, then you’re probably sensing a red flag.
What do I do if I see or sense a red flag while talking to someone on a dating site or website?
If someone on a dating app makes you uncomfortable for any reason, stop communicating with them immediately. Don’t ignore the red flags. If you’ve given them your number, you can immediately block the number. Report the behavior and the user profile to the site or app you are using. Most sites allow you to report users anonymously. Additionally, if you feel that you have been the victim of fraud, you can report it here https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/. If you’ve been harassed or physically harmed, call the authorities.
Is it safe to meet someone for a date who I met on a dating website or app?
As you get to know someone, you will probably be anxious to meet in person. However, proceed slowly. Suggest to your match that you video chat before meeting in person so that you can verify that the person you’ve been talking to matches his profile. Don’t rush meeting in person. If possible, avoid giving him your number until after you’ve met in person. Also, bring a friend to that first date or have someone that knows when and where you will be meeting in case you need someone close by – we touch on this later.
How do I meet someone in person who I met on a dating website or app?
When you’re ready to meet your match in person, here are a few tips:
- Meet only in a public place that is not secluded. Avoid parks. Try a busy coffee shop or restaurant.
- Drive yourself there.
- Tell a family member or friend whom you are meeting and where you are meeting. Send them a picture of your date. Many women will share their phone location with their friends during the date. Some also have set moments throughout the date when they will check in with their family/friend. It is also a good idea to have a code word, so that if you text your family/friend that word, they know you are in trouble. After using the code word, have a bailout plan ready to go.
- If you meet your match out for alcoholic drinks, be extra aware of your limits and don’t leave a drink alone.
- Carry a self-defense tool with you. Just in case.
- Remember that if you feel unsafe or uneasy for any reason, you have the right to leave.
Often, first dates are often a little scary, regardless of how you’ve met. So, be gentle with yourself as you figure out what would be safest and most comfortable for you. Release the pressure to be perfect, but always be cautious.
How do I safely make a profile for a dating website or app?
As you craft your profile, avoid using an image that you also use for other social media accounts.  Then, avoid linking your social media accounts to your dating profile. In fact, perform a google search of your own name to see what results and to evaluate the privacy parameters that you’ve set on your social media accounts.  When including details on your dating profile, avoid using identifying, personal information such as your hometown, your high school, or any other information that could be used to track you outside of the dating site. Ask your friends/family to evaluate your profile to see if they think you share too much.
Dating websites or apps may not be for you. And that’s okay. But if you feel that you want to peruse potential matches, simply be cautious and go slow. The process requires intentionality and may even cause you to experience a wide range of emotions. So, stay true to yourself and stay safe.