You’d think with all the access we have now through social media, the internet, and queer-friendly locales, finding that perfect person you want to spend your time with would be a little easier. Spoiler alert, in case you haven’t already been living it, it’s definitely not easy. And with so much of our social lives going online with COVID-19, there are even more dangers arising.
Online apps and websites haven’t made it easier — and they haven’t made things safer, either. If you follow the news you’ve likely seen numerous stories about catfishing, theft, and assault. And that’s not the worst of it. Just this past December, a Michigan man was murdered after meeting up with someone he met on Grindr.
Following some basic rules when you meet up with someone can help keep you safe. Stick with places that are well-populated and make sure your friends know where you’re going and who you’ll be meeting with. Even better, bring them with you, even if they’re just nearby to make sure everything stays on the up and up.
Safety concerns don’t start and stop with the meetup, though. Websites and apps have access to tons of information. Not just personal information, like name and age, but also critical information about your banking, debts, and address. Whether you’re using an app on a mobile device or only surf ads from your computer, every time you check-in, your information is vulnerable to hackers.
So be a little cautious — and never forget that the person you’re communicating with could be someone other than who they claim to be. Don’t forget to take those extra precautions when you’re heading out to meet them, but before you even sign up for these accounts, take the time to make sure your internet devices — and your information — are properly protected from would-be hackers and thieves.
Keeping Your Information Safe on Dating Sites
Here’s what to keep in mind while setting up your dating apps, profiles, and when submitting information through a website:
- Avoid using your full legal name. It’s tempting to put your name out there, especially when you’re looking for a real relationship based on honesty. The truth is, though, that you’re likely to meet many people out there who you don’t want to interact with. There are also some people who will try and use your name to steal your identity. Do yourself — and your sensitive information — a favor and save your full name for those you’re sure you want to have in your inner circle.
- Stick to home and trusted networks. What information you do need to share — including payment info at sites that require it — should be protected by using a trusted network. Always use a password on your network to discourage uninvited third parties from peeking in on your sensitive information, poaching it, and using it as they see fit.
- Elect for two-factor authentication whenever possible. Sometimes, even with precautions, someone could hack into your account. They’ll be out of there with your information if you haven’t equipped two-factor authentication, which recognizes when someone is logging into an account from a new device. There are two-factor apps out there, but many sites offer a built-in text message service where they’ll send you a code to input to confirm it’s really you.
- Upgrade to a VPN. If you haven’t heard of it before, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is designed to give you ultimate protection and privacy while online. People use a VPN for security and privacy as the app encrypts data and gives you anonymity by hiding your IP address.
Keeping Yourself Safe While Dating
It’d be great if your personal information was the only thing you needed to worry about when venturing into online dating. Sadly, that just isn’t the case. Keep your friends close during initial meetups and follow these rules to ensure your personal safety as well.
- Don’t give out your addresses. Avoid sharing too many details about the part of town you live in, your zip code, and even your email address. Dating sites are designed specifically to keep you protected by keeping that information safe. Don’t compromise the system by oversharing. It’s amazing how much can be found out about you by putting chunks of partial information together.
- Look for red flags. Dating site scams are a real thing. Stay away from people who are vague about where they live or what they do — especially if they say they’re out of the country. Say no and immediately cut off ties with people who ask for money for a plane trip, car repairs, or who are claiming they’re in an emergency situation and need you to wire them money. These are classic scam approaches.
- Do your research. There’s no shame in embracing your inner stalker for this one. If you can find them on social media, do it. If they haven’t taken the precautions listed above about protecting their identity, implementing privacy and search engine options, you’ll know more about the person you’re communicating with — and you’ll be able to share ways they can make themselves safer in the future, too.
- Talk on the phone before you ever meet up. Sure, you’re anxious to meet someone in person when you think you’ve found someone you might click with. A few chat messages and great photos don’t always give you an accurate picture of who you’re working with. Take the extra time to chat a time or two over the phone — even better if you can video chat — to make sure everything is on the up and up and that you want to move forward with the next step. Consider using a Google phone number over your personal phone number.
- Video chat with care. Yes, video chatting can be a great way to confirm that the person you’re talking with is who they actually say they are, but be aware that webcam blackmail can and does happen. Avoid removing clothing or performing sex acts on camera or during video calls to prevent falling victim to this kind of scam.
- Trust your gut. Even when you’ve done everything right, you may find yourself in a position where you don’t feel entirely comfortable. Whatever the reason might be, even if you can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, don’t ignore it. If something isn’t ringing true, don’t hang around to find out why. It could be nothing, but it’s probably not worth the potential risk to wait and see.
Online Dating Success
There’s no doubt about it. There are a lot of things to consider when venturing out into online dating, especially when you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community. Don’t settle for subpar relationships or no relationships at all because you’re afraid to branch out into online dating, though. Make smart, safe choices when using the internet and follow through with wise dating practices and you could be writing about your dream-meet cutie in no time at all.