How to Protect Yourself When Online Dating


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Can romance take root and bloom online?

You bet — rumor has it even Cupid has replaced his bow and arrow with a account.

And why not?

According to Deborah Ballard-Reisch, a communications professor at Wichita State University specializing in quantitative research in interpersonal communications, the odds of meeting a dating partner, if not your soul mate, are stronger than ever online.

Ballard-Reisch says that 40 million U.S. men and women have tried online dating, a staggering figure given the number of single American adults.

“There are 54 million single Americans today,” she says. “Forty million of them are online in one way or another. You have a better chance of meeting Mr. or Ms. Right today than you ever have.”

She estimates that 20% of all long-term romantic relationships are launched online, and that figure really has changed the “dating game.”

“We used to develop romantic relationships with people we went to school with or knew through church, or family or friends introduced us to, and now we supplement that by meeting people online,” Ballard-Reisch says. “And the world of people available to us has exploded exponentially because of that.”

That doesn’t mean cyber-dating comes without risk. There is no shortage of con artists and fraudsters who leverage online dating sites to separate you from your money.

“Like any new technology, there are some downsides to online dating, too,” she says. “One of the biggest is fraud. There are a number of international consortiums that get on online dating sites and pretend to be someone they’re not in order to get money out of people.”

Ballard-Reisch cites two warning signs you are about to be ripped off:

You’re asked to send money. If this happens, it’s time to evacuate — fast. “If someone asks you to send them money, especially out of the country, run,” Ballard-Reisch says.

”Americans” who don’t know English. “One of the things to look out for in online dating is that, when people claim language fluency and then they have grammar and syntax and spelling errors,” she adds. “If their language doesn’t seem right, it likely isn’t” and they may be contacting you from overseas.

What can you do to date safely?

Make like Sherlock Holmes. Avail yourself of the research sides of the Internet and find out all you can about a prospective online dating match. “This might sound coarse, but so much information is available to us online now,” Ballard-Reisch says. “If you’re thinking of meeting someone you have met only online, Google them. Use multiple search engines. Consider seeking criminal background checks. Make sure that people are who they say they are. We used to be able to rely on our support networks — our family, our friends, et cetera — to vet people for us, and when we meet people online, we can’t do that anymore.”

Be ultra-cautious. If you do decide to meet someone you met on line, follow Ballard-Reisch’s security checklist. “Always meet in a public place the first few times,” she advises. “Drive yourself. Let your friends and family know where you’re going, with whom and when you plan to return. Have a panic word in case you have a quick second to call them if you need help. And keep your phone online so you can be tracked through GPS if necessary. Trust your instincts. If something feels wrong, get out.”

Guard your personal I.D. Make sure to keep your identity safe. Even a slight breach or misstep can cost you plenty from a con artist. “Don’t give information about yourself too quickly,” she adds. “Get to know people before you share with them personal information about who you really are.”

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