Safely Surfing for Your Sweetheart

Safety tips for the online dating world

By Ali Carey
|  Thursday, Feb 2, 2012  |  Updated 5:49 PM EDT
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Harry Hairston and the NBC10 Investigators go over the Dos and Don'ts of online dating. <i>This story was first published on February 2, 2012.</i>

Harry Hairston

Harry Hairston and the NBC10 Investigators go over the Dos and Don'ts of online dating. This story was first published on February 2, 2012.

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Who says you can't find your Prince (or Princess) Charming through online dating? Experts say you may be able to, but you'd better take some precautions to protect yourself. 

Online dating sites say they make dating easy and fun for everyone, the dating newbie and the seasoned player. Popular online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony boast that more than 120 million singles worldwide have joined online dating websites searching for true love.

Regardless of your age dating can seem overwhelming and at times awkward. Online dating can seem like the perfect option for older people and the newly divorced that might want to test the dating waters online before they dive in and go out on a date in person. 

However, experts warn that all online daters need to use their heads as well as their hearts when they fall head over heels for their online lover. If not, you could be vulnerable to financial or sexual ploys. 

Here are some basic tips to make sure you get your heart’s desire rather than heartache:

  • Don't put your last name, place of work, or address in your profile or username. Be catchy and unique but not too specific. 
  • Don't go to dinner or drinks for a first date. Meet in a public place, during daylight hours and be sure at least one friend knows who you are meeting, where and when.  No matter how much fun you’re having, do not drink excessively. 
  • Too good to be true? Some estimates say 80% of online daters lie about their height, age or weight.   
  • Use the dating site’s message system and/or set up a third party email address. This makes it harder to get personal information about you.
  • Be smart about location based mobile dating. Do you really want other users to know where you are all the time?
  • Use a reputable dating service. Some experts think you should only use sites that provide a customer service phone number and a physical address on their website. 

Here are some of the red flags popular dating sites Match.comeHarmony and Plenty of Fish tell their users to watch out for:

If the other person: 

  • Quickly asks to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service
  • Vanishes mysteriously from the site, then reappears under a different name
  • Talks about "destiny" or fate"
  • Claims to be recently widowed
  • Claims to be from the U.S. but currently traveling, living or working abroad
It's most important to keep things in perspective and not to fall for a false sense of love. Exchanging a couple flirtatious emails, doesn't necessarily mean you've found the love of your life according to Julie Spira, online dating expert and author of the Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online.
 
"People sometimes fall in love with somebody behind a keyboard," said Spira. 
 
Just because you both like Italian food and romantic comedies doesn't necessarily mean you've found your soul mate and are destined to live happily ever after. Hitting it off over email doesn't mean sparks will fly when you meet in person.
 
For single ladies it can tempting to disclose too much personal information to make your profile more exciting. 
 
It turns out, digital faux pas aren't the only thing older people must watch out for in online dating. Newly divorced and older people that are feeling a little rusty in their dating skills often turn to online dating as a way to ease themselves back into the dating scene. Spira warns that older people who are less knowledgeable about the dangers of internet privacy invasion are easy targets. 
 
It's important to know who you're dealing with, so don't be afraid to ask your new friend plenty of questions. You can also do some homework online to find out more.
 
"The good thing today about doing things online is that you do have sites such as Google where you can do that type of background check to try and uncover as much information as you can," said Philadelphia attorney Fred Perri.
 
Despite the many stories of online dating gone wrong, cyber-dating experts argue that if you're responsible and aware of the possible dangers, it can be a safe and fun way to find true love. 

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