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As the internet has become a bigger part of our lives, it's become far more common for online relationships to flourish. Many happy couples started off by browsing their partner's profile on a dating website, or connecting through social media channels.
30 per cent of all scam reports sent to the ACCC are from dating and romance scams.
Considering the sheer amount of people who engage with social media, this is not surprising. According to the Pew Research Centre, 72 per cent of all adult internet users have a profile on Facebook - in fact, more than half (62 per cent) of the entire global population is now on Facebook! This site is not the only online platform for networking, though, and dating sites have flourished in recent years.
That said, there are some risks you need to be aware of. For instance, a report on online dating compiled by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found in 2014 that 30 per cent of all scam reports sent in to them came from dating and romance scams.
As you can see, there is the potential for both good and bad from an online encounter that has the potential to turn into a relationship, as with most things in life, so it can be beneficial for you to be aware of the risks and options before you partake in e-dating.
Meeting someone in person gives us a chance, as humans, to listen to our intuition by analysing their body language, speech tone and overall behaviour. Since online relationships can be entirely about reading text, it can be difficult to correctly anticipate the other person's true mood. Moreover, even with video calls or phone conversations, the lack of physical proximity or contact can make it difficult for people to decipher their genuine emotions.
"People who are online appear to be much more open, they show a lot of emotions and feeling when they simply write text. They are generally very articulate online. But when you meet them face-to-face their behaviour is contrary to what they said online," says Gisela Adams, counselling expert and clinical coordinator for Relationships Australia NSW.
"It (the online world) is so anonymous people say a lot more than they do face-to-face. It is not very confronting to lie or cheat online as it is face-to-face," she continues.
Beyond the communication barriers of a non-physical relationship, there are risks of trust. Trust is a fundamental aspect of a healthy relationship and as such, its importance should not be underestimated. It can be tough to completely trust a person you have only interacted with online, so when and if the time comes to meet in person, it's recommended that you take a friend or relative along with you just to err on the side of caution.
While it's smart to be safe and sensible throughout an online relationship, that's not to say you can't in fact discover a partner you genuinely enjoy spending time with, fall in love with or settle down with.
The ACCC report found that approximately 4.6 million Australians are currently using dating websites, and this industry is certainly successful considering it earned revenue of $113.3 million in 2014-15. While it may not be everybody's cup of tea, it may actually be the pathway that leads you to a meaningful, safe, healthy and happy relationship.
If you have begun an online relationship but you are noticing certain red flags, or have begin to date the person by spending more time with them in person, but are finding that the persona they portrayed online does not match how they behave when you are with them, you could benefit from professional help or counselling services.