Online dating can lead to love, but has its perils
Online dating just got a little bit safer. This week, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, issued a joint statement with executives from the three major dating sites (eHarmony, Match.com, and Spark Networks) outlining guidelines the companies have promised to follow to help protect the safety of online users of their sites. This news will be welcomed by the approximately 40 million Americans who use online dating sites, but every user should be aware and stay informed in order to best protect themselves from online predators.
What the Dating Sites Have Promised to Do
While the guidelines are not legally enforceable, it is in the company’s interests to show they are being proactive in protecting consumers. The companies have agreed to:
- Check potential registrants against national sexual offender databases and ban sexual offenders from having online profiles.
- Institute systems for rapid reporting of abuse by consumers.
- Provide online safety education for consumers covering such topics as meeting offline, identity fraud, and so on.
- Check for fake profiles.
Why This Agreement Came About
This action partially resulted from a lawsuit brought against Match.com by a Southern California woman who was sexually assaulted by a man she met online. It turned out that the suspect, Jeffrey Marsalis, had 6 prior convictions and was listed on a sex offender database. In 2009, he pleaded no contest to a sexual assault charge and was sentenced to life in prison. It is not only California that is focusing on the online safety of users of dating sites. Legislation to increase online safety measures is also on the books in Connecticut and Texas.
Why People Use Online Dating Sites
These measures are becoming more necessary because of the explosion in use of online dating sites. With everybody’s lives becoming busier, people traveling more, and relocating for work, fewer people have access to family and community connections near where they live that could result in introduction to a suitable romantic partner. Single parents and people over the age of 40 may have a particularly hard time finding dates in the offline world. In fact, online dating sites have a pretty good track record. One online survey of couples married in the last three years showed that 1 in 6 had met through an online dating service. One in five people surveyed had dated someone they met online.
The Bad Guys of the Online Dating World
While online dating may be the most efficient and effective way for many people to meet a potential mate, dating strangers involves some level of risk, and the anonymity provided by the internet can make it easier for scammers and individuals with a history of violence to hide their true identities and motives.
Below are a list of online bad guys to be worried about:
- Identity Thieves
- Violent Individuals and Criminals
- Con Artists with Fake Identities
What You Can Do to Help Protect Yourself
There are no 100-percent-foolproof tips to avoid these online bad guys, but below are some tips to be savvier and better prepared when looking for love online:
- Don’t give out personal information when you first connect. Use a service such as Google Voice to have calls sent to your mobile and home phones without disclosing these numbers to callers. Use call screening to see who is calling, and block undesirable people. Don’t reveal your place of work or home address, and use online and email IDs that don’t contain your real name.
- Do a Google search entering your own name to see what identifying information exists about you online and remove anything you don't want to be seen. Also search the potential date’s name and Facebook profile to learn more about them, and if the information they have given you matches up.
- Don’t hurry to meet in person. Take time to ask questions online, and pay attention to any answers that don’t seem to add up or give you an uncomfortable feeling. Whether online or in person, always trust your gut! It’s more important to be safe than polite. Block and report anybody who acts inappropriately or in a threatening manner.
- When you do meet, choose a place you don’t normally go to, and let a friend know who you are meeting, when, and where. Arrange to call or text the friend to let them know you are safe. Don't get into a car with the date or have them pick you up.
- To guard against sexually transmitted diseases, don’t have sex on the first, in-person date, and, if you do, use a condom. One online survey estimated that one in three women have sex on the first date if they had previously chatted online, and 75 percent of these did not use protection. Yikes!
- Don’t fall in love until you’ve met the person. They may not be who they claim to be, or they may have an ulterior motive. If somebody sounds too good to be true, they may be trying to reel you in before asking for money or personal information. Beware of people who are in another country and ask you for money to pay for for airfare, a relative’s funeral, medical expenses, car repairs, and so on. These are popular scams.
- Beware of people who try to rush the pace of the relationship, pressure you, threaten to end the relationship if you don’t do what they want, try to make you feel guilty, or treat you disrespectfully. These can be red flag signs of potentially abusive or manipulative types. If you feel uncomfortable, block the person.
- Speak by phone before meeting in person. Use your intuition and pay attention to potential nonverbal cues indicating deception, such as voice tone, hesitation, pauses, contradictory statements, and so on. If you have to ring someone’s pager and get a call back, or if they never answer the phone or make a definite time to call, be wary, as they may be married.
- Don’t use overly suggestive language or photographs in your online profile or come across like a drunk. You may attract the wrong type of person. This goes for your Facebook profile as well. With employers checking Facebook, there may be additional risks to your livelihood.
- Be realistic in your expectations, and don’t get carried away by romantic fantasies. Going into any type of dating situation feeling desperate for love can make you too emotionally vulnerable and easy prey for unscrupulous people. Rather, remind yourself of your own good qualities and realize that finding the right match will likely take time and involve some disappointment and rejection. Don't take rejection or nonresponse personally. You may have to meet a lot of frogs before your prince (or princess) comes along. Take it slowly and tread carefully.
With these tips in mind, you should be more prepared to venture into the online dating jungle. While there may be some risks involved, there are also potentially big rewards. Treat your online encounters as potential opportunities to get to know different types of people and learn more about yourself. Most importantly, work to strike a balance between being open to love and using good judgment to stay safe!
About the Author
Melanie Greenberg is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Mill Valley, Marin County, CA. She is also a researcher, author, and national speaker with expertise in life stress, love and relationships, mind-body health,
Visit her new website at http://melaniegreenbergphd.com/marin-psychologist/
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