How to Stay Safe on Online Dating Apps

Drawn couple on phone dating apps

Be honest. Have you ever signed up with a dating app?

It used to be something a bit embarrassing to admit, but these days more and more of us are meeting our future partners and spouses through dating apps or websites of one kind or another.

In March 2020, Tinder, which is perhaps the world's best known dating application, recorded no fewer than three billion swipes in a single day for the first time.

Numbers have been rising steadily since then.

While the popularity of dating apps might now be assured, the experience that many people who have actually used them is not necessarily so positive.

Stats

A recent Pew Research Center study found that of women aged 18-34, a whopping 57% had been sent sexually explicit images or content they hadn't requested on an online dating site.

A 2017 survey by the same organization found that 36% of online daters had endured experiences on dating applications and websites that they would classify as “either extremely or very upsetting“.

A deeply disturbing market research also found that 19% of women had experienced threats of physical danger and violence.

It is not just women who are falling victim to such troubling experiences online either.

9% of men also reported threats of violence and this figure has to be put in the context of further research that has shown that men are far less likely to raise concerns about their physical safety from using dating apps.

So, what exactly do you need to do to ensure your safety on dating apps while still enjoying the advantages of these sites and exploring the opportunity to perhaps meet the right person for you?

In this guide, we will delve into the risks of using dating applications and websites in a little more detail and advise you on some dating app safety tips and the steps you need to take to stay safe.

Couple texting after online dating

The risks of using online dating sites and apps

There are two different categories of risk that online dating sites and apps can pose to users; the physical and emotional risks that arguably come with all dating.

However, they are certainly more pronounced in the online dating world and online scams that are deliberately aimed at online dating site users.

We will take a brief look at each of these categories in turn:

Physical and Emotional Risks

Sexual and physical assault

No matter how much you get to know someone online, it is no replacement for meeting them in the flesh.

Sadly, there are some predatory people out there who will use online dating sites to target and groom victims. When they then eventually meet in person this can result in physical and sexual assault or worse, which can not only threaten your safety but also your sexual health.

Of course, offensive messages and online harassment have grown to be a big problem over the years too. This type of experience is by no means common, but it is certainly not unheard of either.

Misleading profiles

People lie on online dating apps.

Stats

One American survey found that 57% of users admitted to telling ‘white lies' on their profiles.

This can extend to making up profiles entirely, using fake pictures and information, and sometimes even going so far as to switching gender or making dramatic age changes.

This can result in innocent users making an emotional commitment to a person who doesn't really exist.

Relationships or hook-ups

People go onto dating sites looking for different things. Some want to find a life partner to fall in love with, while others just want casual sex.

Even if you make it abundantly clear what you want in your profile, that doesn't always stop others from assuming you want the same thing as them.

Dehumanization

The process of online dating can be considered dehumanizing.

A lot of people treat dating websites like shopping, glancing at people and making quick judgments in a way we never do when we meet someone in person.

Online relationships don't last

Some do of course, but statistically, more online relationships break down than regular ones.

Stats

According to one study by Michigan State University, relationships that begin online are nearly 30% more likely to break down and online couples that marry are three times more likely to get divorced.

Scams

Any online dating website is also a ripe breeding ground for scammers looking to dupe unsuspecting users.

The most common scams you are likely to encounter on online dating apps or websites are:

Romance Scams

By far the most common and lucrative scam for an online fraudster.

This will start like any other online romance, with initial contact followed by getting to know each other. Fraudsters are in this type of scam for the long haul.

They will likely share what appears to be personal details, shower you with loving words and compliments, and sometimes even send gifts.

Often they will try and move communication off the dating profile and onto other messaging services. But when it comes to meeting in person, they will start to ask you to send money for their travel.

Sometimes they will use a personal emergency as an excuse to ask for financial help. And once you pay up, they will either disappear or just keep asking for more.

Couple meet after online dating

Military Romance Scams

This scam is much the same as above, but the person will pretend they are in the armed forces as a convenient excuse for not meeting you in person.

Fake profiles

It is also not unknown for people to set up fake profiles using your name and personal information.

They might be doing this to try and embarrass or harm you professionally or you might just be unlucky because they have found your personal information or pictures online.

Either way, the consequences for you can be sizeable.

Phishing and other scams

Romance scams are by far the most common, but it is also not unusual for fraudsters to target online dating users using phishing emails and other such tactics to try and gain access to your account.

If they succeed they will have access to your financial information and personal details and the cost to you could be significant.

How to be safe on online dating apps and websites

In the previous section we touched on the different types of risks that you can face when using online dating applications and websites.

In this section, we will look at what you need to do to mitigate these risks and remain safe when online dating. Again, these safety guidelines can be broken down into a number of different sections:

Staying safe when using an online dating app or website

There are a number of actions you can take when setting up and running an online dating profile that will help you to be safer when using the site:

Check out a site before signing up

Before you head over to the sign-up page and make your account with an online dating site, take a look at the site first and do background checks to make sure you are happy with what it offers.

Pay particular attention to the safety and blocking features offered, especially how it allows you to block and report users.

Also, take a look at the privacy and security features to see how safe your information on the site will be. We would recommend that you choose a site that doesn't link to your social media profiles (or lets you opt-out of this feature) and which doesn't allow you to receive unsolicited messages.

Obviously, avoid sites that do this. If a site has a free trial, give this a go before committing any money.

Two people become a couple

Don't post personal information

There is no reason to put any more than the bare minimum of personal information on your profile.

This reduces the risk of your identity being stolen or a creepy or obsessive person knowing too much about you. Don't include anything like your surname, contact details, nicknames, work address, home address, or social media handles.

Definitely do not reveal sensitive information like credit card details or bank account information, not only on dating applications but any social media.

It might also be worth increasing the security on your social media accounts too, just in case an unwelcome guest from your online dating world tries to crash that area of your life uninvited too.

Lastly, check out your geography settings and ensure that you are not revealing your location that way.

Use a unique photo

Don't use the same photos for your online profile as you do for other online accounts.

That makes it too easy for people to link the two together with the sort of unintended consequences we discussed in the previous item.

People could use reverse image search on your profile pictures to find where else that image may have been posted, thus finding your other accounts in the process and potentially uncovering more personal data about you.

Prevent this by using one picture for your dating profile and don't use it anywhere else.

Don't leave the online dating app

Scammers and anyone else with a hidden agenda will often try and encourage you to take your conversation outside the dating application onto a different platform.

Never do this as it usually involves sharing your mobile phone number or email details and can also mean you lose some of the built-in protections that the dating website offers.

Don't share personal images

It is possible that some people may ask you to send personal or sexually explicit images of yourself. Never do this under any circumstances.

As soon as images like that are out there, you can never get them back. A good rule of thumb is not to share anything you wouldn't want your Grandmother to see!

Man gives his date flowers

Get a Google Phone number

If and when you do decide you want to talk to someone from your dating profile in person, don't just hand over your mobile phone number.

Once they have it, you can never take it away without changing your own number with all the inconvenience that comes with that.

Instead, set up a Google phone number and arrange for it to be forwarded to your phone. To set one up on the Google Voice platform, all you need to do is:

  1. Visit voice.google.com.
  2. Sign in to your Google Account.
  3. Review the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy and then click Continue.
  4. Search for available numbers by your location or area code. To stay extra private and secure, try a different city or area code instead.
  5. Once you have chosen the number you want, click Select.
  6. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete sign up.

Google Voice

Unfortunately, Google Voice is only available in the US and selected markets.

Look to other services like Skype which offers a “Skype Number”, allowing you to have a landline number forward to your mobile or elsewhere if you live in another location.

Staying safe when meeting in person

If you are confident enough in your online communications with someone to want to meet them in real life, there are more simple but valuable safety tips for you to follow to do that safely too:

Meet in a public place

If you wish to see someone who you only met online before, never agree to go to their place, or your place, or somewhere quiet and remote on a first date.

Instead, the first meeting should be in a public place where there are plenty of people about. Meet in a public coffee shop in town, a restaurant, or a museum are just a few possibilities.

It depends what you are into, but any busy place would do.

Definitely do not agree to something that would make you feel unsafe or feel uncomfortable and back out if you feel pressured to do so.

Feeling uncomfortable in itself is a major red flag. Listen to your body, your instincts can often see things you cannot.

Also, if possible, ensure that you date early in the evening, in a specific neighborhood familiar to you and have your own transportation and do not accept offers to get a ride home.

Tell family or friends

Be sure to tell at least one family member or friend where you are going and who you are meeting. It is also a good idea to arrange a time that you will check in with them to tell them you are OK.

If you've added your new romantic interest on other social media sites, see if you have any mutual friends who can give you the lowdown on the person you're meeting.

Stay aware and alert

Remember that no matter how much you have spoken online, this is still a stranger, so you have to take precautions.

Never leave your drink unattended, don't get drunk or accept taking drugs with them, and don't agree to go on somewhere else on a first date.

Emergency cash

Just in case the worst happens and you end up losing your bag or wallet, have some emergency cash on you somewhere so you can get a taxi home.

Carry a legal weapon

This may sound extreme but if you are worried, there is no reason not to carry some sort of self-defense tool with you.

We are not advocating you carry a knife or a gun or anything like that, but if you feel safer, it is no bad thing to have a pepper spray or a panic alarm on you just in case.

Ensure that whatever you carry is legal in the country you reside.

Couple move in together

Avoiding online scams

To avoid falling for romance scams or other online fraud, here are a few helpful tips:

Look out for fake profiles

Fake online dating profiles can be very convincing but there are a few things you can look out for:

  • Professional-looking photos – you can use TinEye.com to see if an image appears anywhere else online.
  • Profile consistency – is the information they are telling you consistent with what their profile says.
  • Language – Is their English unusually weak. These scammers are often based overseas and can be second-language English speakers.
  • Invite you onto a different website or video chat – Never do this.
  • Ask for too much personal information
  • Move too quickly

Trust your gut feelings on this too. If something doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to walk away.

Don't share personal details

Never give someone details such as your mobile phone number, real email addresses, full name, address, or anything they could use to identify you outside of the site.

This can also be used for identity theft.

Don't give money

A scammer posing as a potential date will eventually ask for money.

Often they will say it's for a personal emergency or to pay for a flight or travel to see you and request a wire transfer. Don't do it. You will never see that money again.

Don't click on links in emails

If you get an email from your dating site, never click on the link. Phishing emails will try and divert you to a fake site to harvest your login details.

If in doubt, visit the real dating application or website and look for the same message there.

Block and report suspicious profiles

If you are approached by a dodgy profile or encounter a fake profile, block it immediately and report it to the site to help ensure others don't fall victim to their scams.

You can also report it in the UK to the police via ActonFraud. In the US, you can report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Couple get married

Summary

The world of online dating could well be where you meet the person you will spend the rest of your life with. But there are some dodgy people and genuine risks out there too.

Don't be afraid of delving into the world of online dating, but do so carefully.

Be aware of the risks that there are and follow our advice to mitigate them and help to ensure you have the safest and best online dating experience possible.

Illustrations (c) Spicytruffel | Dreamstime.com

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 5 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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