Online dating can be fun and safe with a little planning and care.
Dating apps and websites
If you want to try online dating, browse some of the apps and websites that offer it. Make sure you feel comfortable with the users, photos and language — find one that suits you.
Know how to recognise the ‘bad eggs’
Although most people are decent, some are not. Follow this guide to help you recognise possible ‘bad eggs’ on dating websites and apps.
Cheaters are often married or in a relationship and are looking for something outside their current relationship. Most will lie about the fact they are married or have a partner. Their availability is often limited and they may not readily share contact details. Again, if you are okay with this, or in a similar situation, then there is no issue, but be wary of these people if you want an exclusive relationship.
Players are just after one-night stands, so they play the field. They often feature on many dating sites at the same time. They may be frequently unavailable, citing lame excuses, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. They may also suddenly contact you quite late for a ‘booty call’. This is fine if it’s what you want. It is a good idea though, to ask some questions so you know what they are looking for, and you can be sure you are both looking for the same thing.
Predators come in two types on online dating sites. The first type is looking for a short-term partner — they are likely to abuse you mentally or sexually for a while, and then move on to the next person. The second type may try to use you as a way to connect with your children, and then to groom them for sex. This is every parent’s worst fear, so don’t disclose that you have children or share any information about them until you know the person well ‘in person’. Always be careful if someone shows too much interest in your children. Remember, if you feel uncomfortable about anyone you meet online it is time to move on.
Profile liars create just that — a profile full of lies. They lie about how old they are, what they look like and even their hobbies and interests. They use disguise to appear attractive, and may do this quite innocently, because they really do think they are like their profile. They may, however, be just really desperate to attract people or they may do it to fool others. Always be wary of people who lie.
Scammers are most likely to deceive you into helping them with a financial problem. They are likely to prey on your emotions and ask you for money, often employing the tactic of an emergency, like being stranded overseas or a very sick relative who needs help. Read more about online scams and identity theft.
Remember, one bad experience doesn’t mean all experiences will be bad.
Safer online dating
There are ways to keep yourself safer when online dating, including being aware of your behaviour and how your devices work and how scammers operate.
Don't use your real name. Limit the amount of personal information you share with someone you meet online until you get to know them, preferably in person. This means that you should not share your full name, email or home addresses, phone numbers or details such as where you work or whether you have children until you have met them in person many times, and are comfortable they are who they claim to be and are a decent person (as far as you can tell). You should feel very safe with someone before you share any of this.
Use a different profile photo to any other photo of you that is online, or you have used on a social media service. This will stop someone finding you, and information about you, when they do an image search. You don’t want them to find you through the same photo on another site.
Take your time getting to know someone online. Ask them lots of questions and make sure you feel comfortable and trust them before meeting them.
Only add them as a friend on social media when you really trust them, as this gives them information about where you live, your family and friends. It also gives them a lot of other personal information such as where you go for holidays, where you hang out, who your friends are and, for those who are mums, information about your children.
If you decide to meet someone in person, be cautious:
- Stay in a public place. Share the person's profile with a friend and tell them where you are meeting. Shopping centres, cafés, and restaurants are good meeting places because there are always a lot of people nearby. Never meet at a secluded spot or someone else’s place — stay in public spaces.
- Save and store your app conversation with them before meeting. Many dating apps have an 'unmatch' or 'block' option which removes any evidence of contact with the other person — so backing up your conversation or taking a screenshot of it and storing that outside the app may help you identify them if you want to make a complaint or report a bad experience afterwards.
- Have a backup plan. Have your own transport or way home. Tell someone where you are meeting, and share your details, such as a phone number with a friend. It’s even safer to take a friend with you on the first meeting. If you feel uncomfortable on a first meeting, make up an excuse and leave (‘Sorry I can’t stay long … I have a meeting in the morning’). You don’t have to stay in a situation to be polite.
- Trust your gut feelings. If something does not feel right, then it probably is not right. Don’t second guess yourself — if you are in doubt, leave as soon as possible.
Get your friends to help. If you have friends on the same online dating site, ask them if they know of any profiles that are not okay so you can reject them when they contact you.
Report suspicious profiles and requests. If you do come across suspicious profiles, requests or behaviours then report them to the site.
Computers and devices
Turn location services off when using dating apps, and don’t share any photos or videos that carry location information. If you aren’t sure, don’t share that photo or video: turn location services off and take another photo to share.
Set up another email address from an online service such as Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook or Yahoo. Ensure that the email address doesn’t contain your real name, so it is harder for someone to track you down..
Block anyone who behaves badly. Don’t respond to threats, sexual behaviour, photos or videos that make you feel uncomfortable. Block and report them.
Make sure your computer has a secure password, up-to-date anti-virus software and a firewall to prevent someone using the online dating site to access your personal details or computer.
Be wary of people asking for money. If someone asks you to send money online, no matter how genuine it sounds, the person is probably a scammer. Do not send money.
Sometimes people will declare their love for you after only a short time after meeting you online. Such affection is unlikely to be true. Write them off and move on.
Remember to keep your computer or other device secure. Make sure your computer has a secure password, up-to-date anti-virus and a firewall to prevent someone using the online dating site to access your personal details and computer. Find out more about computer and device security at Stay Smart Online and our advice on protecting your personal information.
Tips for keeping safe
- Follow the golden rule — meet in a public place such as a shopping centre, popular café or restaurant, or at a social function (football or other sports) where there are many people nearby. Never choose to meet for the first time at a quiet spot or a house.
- If the other person changes the meeting place at the last minute to somewhere you don’t know, cancel the date and try again another time. If they do it again then try someone else.
- Always tell someone else — a friend or family member — who you are meeting and where.
- If you make your own way there and home, don’t park somewhere that seems unsafe. Consider asking a friend to give you a lift and to pick you up for the first couple of dates — it may be safer.
- Leave if it feels wrong.
- Arrange with a friend to check in. Consider asking some friends to be nearby for the first date and ask them to call you at an agreed time to check that you are okay. That way, if you want to leave the date you can pretend the phone call is about a family member who is not well and therefore you must leave.
- Google the person you are planning to meet before you meet them. This can act as a background check in the first instance, but also it can verify or disprove claims and statements made at the initial meeting, or it may confirm any suspicions you might have.
- Avoid sharing too many of your details too soon — your address, where you work, favourite restaurants or clubs, and family life and children – until you get to know the person better. Wait a while before linking up on social media as this has more information about you.
What to do if you are feeling unsafe
If you are in immediate danger, call the police on Triple Zero (000) now.
If someone you have met online has threatened you, or made you feel unsafe in some other way, report them and block them. Keep any evidence of their behaviour, for example, make a calendar entry and take screen shots.
If you have started a relationship with someone who makes you feel unsafe — tell friends and family, look at our advice on Online safety planning and contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) to make a safety plan, and contact the police.
If the person you met online accesses images or videos of children who are naked or being sexually abused, you can report them to the police.
Look at our advice on cyberstalking, if you think you are being cyberstalked by someone you have met online.