A guide to safer
online dating

Increasingly, many people are meeting new friends and partners via social media, or through online dating websites and apps. This post explores some of the issues surrounding online relationships, what some of the risks are with online relationships; and tips on meeting someone face-to-face from an online relationship.

Increasingly, more and more people are making new connections with others online. Some websites help you find a friendship or a long‐term relationship, while others are about finding a casual sexual partner. Do your research before you sign up to ensure you’re comfortable with what you are agreeing to and feel secure.

When you start out, look for a reputable app, and learn from friends’ experiences. You want to feel both understood and respected, and need to be safe.

The risks of meeting people online

The internet is an informal, anonymous place to meet people. People don’t know what you do or what you look like, aside from the photos you post. You can change your gender, job, sexual preferences, age, culture and interests. You are known only by what you write, and so is the other person.

Matching

Occasionally, you may be matched with people you don’t end up being compatible with, or who don’t match your needs or requirements. Think about what’s really important to you in a relationship and focus on those characteristics – you have a right to be fussy, but remember that very few people are perfect!

Be aware

There are risks involved in all relationships, though with online relationships you especially need to consider your own safety and that of your family. There are many stories of sincere people who have trusted a stranger, believed a story of hardship or need, and ended up being hurt, or being coerced into handing over over significant sums of money. As well as the financial expense, emotional hurt and humiliation can result.

Many online relationships work out well, but most experts advise you not to send money, or buy gifts for someone you don’t know, and to be cautious about your safety. Tell a friend about the person you have met online and if you’re planning to meet them, do so in a public place and let your friends know where you will be and when you get home.

Meeting someone face‐to face

The next step in an online relationship is meeting someone face‐to‐face. It’s always wise to be cautious when you are meeting up with someone for the first time. When you meet someone in person, you can experience body language and non‐verbal cues as well as their overall behaviour.

Although you can hear and see someone on video chat, it’s not quite the same as meeting in person.

Tips for keeping safe

If you choose to meet an online friend in person, consider these tips:

  1. Don’t go alone. Have someone you trust with you, or nearby and meet in a public place. Alternatively, tell a friend where you’re going and ask them to call at an agreed time to check you are ok.
  2. Start the relationship anew. When people first meet and start new relationships, they check each other out and then gradually reveal themselves, bit‐by‐bit bringing down their barriers. When you meet an online friend in person, treat it like a new beginning and make sure you have your barriers up, even if you think you know this person. They might not be who they say they are, or who you expect them to be.
  3. Stay in control of what’s happening. Don’t allow yourself to do anything that you don’t want to do and make sure you have ways to leave the situation safely. Avoid drinking to excess or using recreational drugs.
  4. Don’t buy a one‐way ticket anywhere. It’s wise to have an exit plan in case of emergency or if things are not working out as you’d hoped.
  5. Meet their circle. Before you get too far into a relationship, meet their friends and family and introduce the person to the people close to you. If they avoid introducing you to their friends, ask yourself why that may be the case, and make sure you think hard about the relationship. If for whatever reason you feel a concerned about the relationship. Trust your instincts and act on them.

Further resources

  • www.immi.gov.au/migration‐fraud/email‐internet‐scams.htm
  • www.afp.gov.au/policing/cybercrime/internet‐fraud‐and‐scams.aspx
  • www.scamwatch.gov.au
  • www.staysmartonline.gov.au/home_users/protect_yourself2/avoiding_scams_and_hoaxes
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