BLOG: Tips to stay safe when using online dating websites

Dating Apps like Tinder and Grindr, along with websites like Match.com and Eharmony have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. Credit: PA

Tips to stay safe when using online dating websites

You will probably have already seen some ‘standard’ tips on keeping safe – you know, the ‘meet in a public place, take a friend along’ type tips. These are all good and sensible advice, and I would urge you to follow all such suggestions. This list of tips is going to be a little different however – because, let’s admit it, you’re wearing those rose tinted glasses, and your capacity to tell what this person you have been sharing personal details with at 2am, the person you have been texting continuously for 3.5 weeks, is extremely skewed. They may be the love of your life, they may be a good future friend, they may be a dreadfully bad match – OR they may be someone is using internet dating sites to find people to rape.

So, here are some tips to help you stay safe:

REMEMBER this is a ‘double’ blind date. You do not know the person and the online dating site certainly does not know the person. You have no security anchor – no friend who has introduced you, no employer or work colleagues who can vouch for them. Exchanging private text messages and emails does not count. In fact, it is especially dangerous as it may make you feel that they know the real you (and that therefore you know the real them), and means that you lower your guard. So find out what information you can about them – through facebook (any mutual friends?), do a google search on them, and if you can, meet their friends in person and ask about them.

ALWAYS report back to the dating site anyone that does something, or pushes you into something, against your will. You may also need to report this to the police. You are not ‘making something out of nothing’, you have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, but your comments and feedback may be a piece of a jigsaw that helps to prevent future sexual assaults and rapes. Keep yourself safe and help others keep safe too.

Only do, go or agree to anything that you feel comfortable with. Do not be pushed, persuaded or cajoled into anything you are unsure about. If you find yourself being ‘persuaded’ about anything, then ask yourself why that person is trying to pressurise you. Then make a swift exit.

Trust your instincts when they say someone is dodgy, don’t trust them when your instincts say the other person is fine – wait until it is proven (by their behaviour, by a mutual friend or through getting to know them across a range of situations in real life).

Remember too that if someone is nice, funny, thoughtful, and caring in their emails and texts, they may be a perfect love match for you, or they may be a nice person but not your type or they may be someone searching for people to have sex with (consent optional). So, my best piece of advice really, pretend that it is your best friend (and not you) meeting someone from an online dating site. What sort of safety precautions would you make them take? What advice would you give? Treat yourself as you would your best friend – we often look after others much better than we look after ourselves.

And advice for internet dating sites themselves: ask for feedback from your clients about people who seem too pushy (or worse). This is intelligence gathering, and carefully analysed will help you keep your clients safe.

Written by Belinda Winder - Professor in Forensic Psychology and Heads the Sexual Offences, Crime and Misconduct Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University.