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Of course, there is no way to make meeting a stranger completely safe, but there are ways to reduce the inherent risks associated with cyber dating. Let's start at the beginning.

Personal Ads:

  • Never post your real email address anywhere online, and especially not in connection with a personal ad. If the dating site requires that your email address be visible to non-members and members, choose another singles site. The best sites offer anonymous email forwarding and messaging so that you can decide when you are ready to share any personal information with others.
  • If you and another member mutually decide to communicate outside of the service, be sure to use a free "throwaway" account from Hotmail or Yahoo.
  • Do not include any identifying information in your personal ad. Use only your first name or a nickname. List a region as your location, especially if you live in a small town.
  • By stating your preferences clearly, you'll reduce the number of people who respond to your ad. However, if you're female, you can still expect an inordinate amount of responses to your ad. It's also inevitable that you will be contacted by people who are less than desirable. If you respond, do so tactfully and kindly.  Sometimes ignoring a request is appropriate, so use good judgment.
  • Don't lie about your physical appearance or age.
  • Only share your photograph with others when you feel reasonably comfortable with the person requesting it. Remember, once your photograph is online, anyone can download it, alter it, post it on another site, etc.
  • If a potential date refuses to exchange photographs after you've established a certain level of trust, or he keeps delaying a face-to-face meeting, that should set off an alarm. He or she probably hasn't been completely honest and you may want to think twice before continuing the relationship.  
  • Once you begin regular correspondence with someone who has similar interests, move slowly. Take the time to learn about this person. Ask lots of questions and remember that if someone seems too good to be true, he (or she) probably is.

Once you've established an email friendship, and you both feel that you are ready to take the next step, don't jump into a face-to-face meeting. Instead, arrange a time to speak on the phone. It's still important to move slowly and follow a few safety precautions, but this is your opportunity to get to know your potential date on another level.

  • Don't give out your phone number if you're female. Ask for his number instead. Most men with nothing to hide will be eager to give it to you and will understand why you are being cautious. If he's not willing to give you his number, get the number of a local pay phone and arrange a time to call. If you call him at home or work, remember to block your number from appearing on Caller-ID before you dial. If he gives you his work number, get his home number as well. If he refuses to give it to you after you have built up a certain level of trust, be suspicious. He probably has a wife or girlfriend at home.
  • Be alert for warning signs when you are chatting on the phone. If he claims to live alone, why is he whispering, or why do you hear a child crying in the background?  
  • Verify information by asking the same questions you asked when you first started communicating via email. This isn't an interrogation, but you're trying determine whether or not someone is being truthful before you agree to an offline meeting.
  • If your call is welcome, it should be welcome at any time. If your date is upset that you called unexpectedly, or asks that you only call after you have been given the go-ahead via an email or instant message, that's a red flag. You don't want to be a nuisance by calling at 3:00 a.m. just to see what kind of reaction you receive, but call a few times unexpectedly and see what happens.


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