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How to stay safe on online dating apps around the world

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How to stay safe on online dating apps around the world. Dating apps can seem antithetical to maintaining personal privacy. It’s a situation in which you’re expected to provide information about yourself to strangers—the more information the better, one might say, with clear photos and numerous personal facts.

More than 40 million Americans use online dating services or dating apps. As is the case when meeting someone new, whether online or offline, it’s wise to keep a few safety precautions in mind. Dating apps don’t conduct criminal background checks on users, so it’s up to each user to determine if they are comfortable meeting up with someone. However, it is important to remember that if you do experience sexual assault or violence while dating online or using an app, it is not your fault.

Since the first dating site launched in the 1990s, online dating has grown in popularity and become normalized around the world. Millions of people use it to find love and companionship – but as well as the rewards of finding a partner, there are also risks, including online scams and unwanted or threatening behaviour. In order to have a safe, successful dating experience, it’s important to be aware of potential dangers and how to avoid them.

What are the Dangers of online dating?

The downsides of online dating go beyond being ghosted or having your heart broken – there are risks involved in meeting strangers online. Potential threats include:

Online dating scams

Dating app scams – also known as romance scams or romance fraud – take place when someone believes they have made a connection or match through an online dating site or app but the person they are talking to is, in fact, a scammer. The scammer manipulates or grooms the other person to gain their trust over time, ultimately so they can either ask them for money or obtain enough personal information about them to steal their identity.

Fake dating apps and sites

Not all dating apps or sites are genuine. There has been a spate of fake dating sites and scam dating apps, so much so that in 2022, the Better Business Bureau in the US issued a warning about them. Fake dating sites can be hard to detect and people usually find them through online ads or search engine results. At first glance, they seem legitimate, with automatic sign-up via your Google or Facebook accounts, testimonials, an ‘18+ only’ disclaimer, and links to pages you would normally expect to see, such as a privacy policy and terms and conditions. However, most profiles on these counterfeit sites are fake, and replying to them usually costs you money. If you complain to the customer service team, you’ll find they are fake too.

Fake profiles or catfishing

Statistics vary, but it’s estimated that as many as one in 10 online dating profiles are fake. Motivations for creating a fake dating profile vary – some are set up to sell or market a product to others, whilst others are created for catfishing (creating a fake persona to start a relationship with someone). Others are more malicious and are designed to scam users out of money.

Harassment and unwanted messages

A Pew Research Center study in 2020 showed that many women experience some form of harassment on dating sites and apps. 57% of women online daters aged 18 to 34 said they had received sexually explicit messages or images they hadn’t asked for. In the same study, 19% of women aged between 18 and 34 reported threats of physical harm.

Stalking

The same Pew Center study also found that 37% of online daters said that other users on a dating site or app continued to send them messages even after they had indicated that they weren’t interested in communicating. Sometimes, the risk goes beyond users who won’t take no for an answer, and this can turn into real-life stalking. In some cases, this could include stalkers finding out where you live or work and turning up in person to harass you.

Online dating addiction

Online dating can become an addiction for some people. If you are using online dating apps, it’s a good idea to take breaks every now and then. This will give you some perspective and allow online dating to remain fun rather than stressful.

dos and don’ts to stay safe and private on dating apps

Don’t: Sign up with your social media account

Like many apps, dating apps allow you to sign up using a social media account. This means you can skip through the signup process with just the tap of a button. It’s convenient, but you’re also giving up information about your social media accounts to the dating app, helping the app build a profile on you. Another risk is if your social-media account login is compromised, your associated app accounts will automatically be compromised too.

Moreover, some dating apps will automatically use your social media profile picture as the primary photo of your dating profile. This makes it extremely easy for people to pull up your social media profile, which likely reveals a lot more about you (such as your full name). It is easy to change your profile picture, but in general, to stay private, sign up for your dating account manually.

Don’t: Use photos that give away your identity

“A picture speaks a thousand words,” as the old adage goes, but this also means photos can reveal a lot about you.

When picking out photos for your dating profile, avoid using photos that show your regular hangout spots, your friends and colleagues, where you live, or where you go to work. Stick to those that have only you in them and those that do not give away your personal data.

Also avoid using the same photos used for your social media account profile pictures, as a Google image search would lead someone to your social account or confirm your identity.

Don’t: Link your social media accounts

Many dating apps let you connect your social media accounts to your dating profile to show to your potential matches you are a real person and to give more information about you. For example, Tinder lets you link your Instagram account to it, showing your most recent photos on your dating profile.

By doing so, you’re giving away a lot of information about your life—like your daily routine, places you go to, and the faces of your loved ones—to total strangers. And the more profiles or accounts you’re linking together, the more prone you are to identity theft.

Do: Use a nickname or fake name

Ideally, use a nickname or a fake name. We’re not saying to lie about who you are—well, maybe we are when it comes to your name. Again, ideally, you don’t want someone to be able to Google you—which your name would go a long way to facilitate. You can always tell your matches your real name in the chat or in real life later on.

Do: Minimize the personal info you put on your profile

We want to come across as authentic and honest in our dating profile, but privacy doesn’t necessarily favour that.

Besides your name and your age, many dating apps ask a string of other personal questions, like your workplace, educational background, and religious views. It’s a good idea to skip them if they aren’t mandatory. You can always bring these topics up in a chat or a meetup later.

Do: Restrict the app’s location permissions

Most dating apps do not let you turn off location sharing completely, because they are designed to show you potential matches within your vicinity. That said, you can always set the location permission to “while using the app” so that your location won’t be used if the app is just running in the background.

Do: Keep the conversation within the app at first

Congratulations, it’s a match! Once you start to chat with your match in the app, the next step is usually to exchange phone numbers so you can communicate using your usual chat apps. Be cautious if you’re asked to give your phone number too early. Your phone number could be used by scammers for identity theft. Stick to the app’s built-in chat first.

When ready to take the chat elsewhere, consider using a chat app that doesn’t involve giving away your phone number, like Telegram, Discord, or Skype.

Do: Pause your account if you want a break from the app

Having second thoughts about dating apps? Consider hiding your profile for now. This stops it from showing on people’s feeds, but you won’t lose your existing matches and chats. Some dating apps like Bumble and Hinge let you hide your profile for free, while some others offer it as a paid feature. However, you might not be able to chat with your matches when your account is paused.

Do: Delete your profile if you don’t use the app anymore

Found someone? Or just done with dating? Maybe it’s time to delete the app from your phone. (It’s a good habit to declutter your phone from time to time, anyway.)

Before removing the dating app, make sure to also delete your profile. Learn how to delete your profile on TinderBumble, and Hinge.

If there isn’t an option to delete your profile, you can insert fake details into your account. This is so if your profile still shows on people’s feeds even if you no longer use the app, you’re not displaying a real profile or giving away any real information.

Online dating safety tips

While you are not to blame if someone behaves in an aggressive or inappropriate way toward you when online dating, there are steps you can take to maximize online dating safety. Here are some useful tips to bear in mind:

Use a unique photo

For your dating profile, avoid using the same photo or photos that you have on your social media accounts. It’s easy for someone to do a reverse image on Google – and if you are using the same photos on your dating profile as on Facebook and Instagram, then you can be found on social media. From there, potential scammers could start piecing together information about you. Also, do not use photos with which someone can find out where you live or work. This information can be used in social engineering schemes: for example, a stranger will say that he saw you in the office and works not far from you, although in fact this is not true and is done only to gain your trust.

Guard your personal information

As well as using unique photos on your profile, ensure you keep personal details to a minimum. This includes information like your last name, contact information, date of birth, place of work, where you went to school, social media handles and so on. This information can make it easier for hackers to guess your passwords. They can also use the information to send you phishing emails. Instead, use your first name or a nickname.

Don’t link your social media profiles

Keep your dating profile and your personal social media accounts separate. You likely have more personal information on those accounts that can be used by hackers or scammers. It’s a good idea to review the privacy settings on all your social media accounts to ensure these are set to a level you feel comfortable with.

Stay within the dating app

When chatting to a potential date or someone you’ve only just met, it’s best to keep your messages within the dating app. Scammers often want to move you off to encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp, where their behaviour can be less easily monitored. Staying inside the dating app gives you an extra layer of protection since some apps do not allow people to send links within messages and most will have to report or block functions. And if things don’t work out, you don’t have to worry about the other person having your number.

Limit your use of location settings

Turn off the app’s location settings or use them sparingly. It’s better to cast a wider net than to allow strangers to pinpoint the neighbourhood you live or work in.

Use a trustworthy site

There are thousands of dating apps available worldwide. Not all of them are the same quality. Do your research before you choose one – read online reviews and ask your friends for recommendations. Often, the larger, more well-known sites will do a better job at protecting your private information and ensuring secure online dating. Once you have stopped using whichever dating app you decide upon, remember to delete your profile.

Don’t be afraid to report someone

The safest dating apps will encourage users to report aggressive or illegal behaviour. They usually include the option to block an individual user if your interactions make you feel uneasy. If someone is harassing you or attempting to extort money from you, contact the dating site’s customer support team.

Avoid interacting with suspicious profiles

If the person you matched with has posted only limited information and only one picture, it may be a fake account. Be cautious about connecting with someone you have so little information about. Trust your instincts about whether you feel someone is genuine or not.

Video chat before you meet up in person 

Once you have matched with a potential date and chatted, consider scheduling a video chat with them before meeting up in person. This can be a good way to help ensure your match is who they claim to be in their profile. If they strongly resist a video call, that could be a suspicious sign.

Tell a friend where you’re going

Before meeting your online date in real life, tell a friend who you are meeting, where you are going, and what time you plan to be home. Consider planning a ‘safe call’ – that is, asking a friend to call you during the date to check that you are okay.

Meet in a public place and arrange your own transport

For your first date, arrange to meet in a public place and provide your own transportation. Being in control of how you get to and from the date allows you to leave when you want. Have a few ride-share apps downloaded on your phone so you have options if you need them. Make sure your phone is fully charged or consider bringing your charger or a portable battery with you. Avoid letting someone know exactly where you live.

Stick to what you are comfortable with

Often, dates can involve drinking. Try to keep your limits in mind and don’t feel pressured to drink just because your date is drinking. Stay aware and alert. Don’t leave your drink unattended and keep the first couple of dates short. Some people feel safer carrying a self-defence tool with them, such as pepper spray or a high-powered flashlight.

Trust your instincts

Always listen to your instincts and feel free to leave a date or stop communicating with somebody if you feel uncomfortable. Don’t worry about feeling rude—prioritize your safety. If you felt uncomfortable or unsafe during your date, then block or report your match afterwards to prevent them from interacting with your profile again.

Protect yourself and your devices

One of the best ways to stay safe online is by using comprehensive internet security software. Security software can protect you from clicking on malicious links that a scammer may send you, while also helping you to avoid other threats like viruses, ransomware, and phishing attacks in general. It can look out for your personal information as well, by protecting your privacy and monitoring your email, bank accounts, credit cards, and other information that a scammer or identity thief may exploit.

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