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More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.
More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.

Online Dating Safety Tips

The internet has created a multitude of ways for us to connect with new people online. If you are using an online dating app or social media to connect with new people, these real-world safety tips are designed to help keep you safer across every platform. 

Survivor Advocate

Key Takeaways

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers and other types of bad actors often build trust quickly with their victims. If someone feels like your soulmate, the relationship is moving quickly even if still confined to online, or you’re having very deep conversations very quickly, this could be a major red flag.
  • Before meeting someone in-person, you should screenshot all of their information and send it to someone you trust. Additionally, you can try to reverse image search their photos and look for any internet presence.
  • If you experience any form of harm from someone you meet on an online dating app, whether a romance scam or in-person sexual abuse, you have options to report and seek assistance. You can reach out to Helping Survivors to help guide you about the next best steps you can take.

Online dating has evolved into a convenient new way for Americans to meet one another. Popular online dating apps, such as Tinder, Bumble, Match, eHarmony, and OK Cupid, are a great way to meet new people. According to a study published by the Pew Research Center, three in ten adults in the United States have used a dating site or app, and meeting people through social media apps is also common these days

Six in ten online daters indicate in the survey that they had an “overall positive experience” using online dating websites and apps, but four of ten users described their experiences as “at least somewhat negative,” with 9% describing online dating experiences as “very negative.” Pew Research data also indicates younger women are “especially likely” to say they’ve had troublesome interactions on dating platforms, including users continuing to send unwanted messages, using explicit or offensive language, and, sadly, threatening physical harm.

Top 8 Safety Tips for Online Dating

To avoid potentially frightening or dangerous situations with someone met over the internet, adhere to the following top eight safety tips for online dating.

Trust Your Intuition

Sexual violence can happen to anyone. If something feels off, trust your feelings and do not worry about offending the other person. If your instincts are telling you this is the wrong person to date, it is likely not going to progress into a healthy long-term relationship. Believe in your intuition and end the date early or cancel if something feels wrong.

Take Your Time

Sometimes it’s tempting to meet quickly with someone online, but it’s best to be patient and take it slow. It’s a good idea to have several conversations and ask lots of questions (multiple times if necessary) to see if conflicting answers are given. This helps to identify any questionable personal details they give.

Use your best judgment on whether to do phone calls or video chats. Remember to avoid using your own cell phone or home phone number and instead utilize an anonymous Google or Skype number to chat online before arranging a first date and meeting in person.

Do Some Research

Before getting too serious and meeting a real person for the first time, use the internet for informal background checks. You’d be surprised at what you can find out about people. Start with Google to see if the person exists and if they’re truly who they say they are. Most people will say they work in a specific career or are employed by a certain company—try to verify as much information as possible.

After Googling, search social media networks and read as much into their profiles as possible—observe the friends they talk to and the types of discussions they have. Facebook is a great tool to learn about another person. Also, perform a reverse image search using their dating profile photo to see if any suspicious profiles or secondary Facebook accounts turn up.

Studying a person’s online persona, pictures, and reputation will either clear up any mysteries or highlight red flags that suggest the individual might be someone to avoid.

Last Date Modified
May 17, 2024

Keep Your Personal Info Private

When first connecting with a potential online dating partner, keep your personal details as private as possible. You don’t want to share any information, such as your last name, workplace, or home address, that could allow someone to easily find you.

Scams are also unfortunately common with online dating. Avoid sharing your bank numbers, Social Security number, credit card number, passwords, birthday, or any other personal information. Even the most benign personal data can lead to problems—keep any information guarded that could allow access to your “real life.”

Tell a Friend About Your Date

Before meeting up with someone for a first date, always share the details with trusted close friends or family members. Use a location app on your phone and routinely check in with people. Share with a friend the date’s full name, what they look like, where they work, what kind of car they drive, and where you’re meeting. Set up a code word for an “emergency” call to find a quick exit during a date.

Meet in Public, Stay in Public

Always plan to meet online dates in a public place, especially for the first date and even for a few subsequent dates. Don’t bring the person to your home or work, and don’t accept invitations to go to their home or somewhere unplanned—especially isolated places such as parks. Stick to public spaces, such as high-profile coffee shops or populated restaurants.

Stay Sober

A little liquid courage might be tempting, but you should avoid having any alcohol so that you can remain 100% alert. Also, never leave your drink unattended or accept a drink waiting for you when you arrive. A predator might spike your (even non-alcoholic) drink to get you to drop your guard.

Use Your Own Transportation

If a date offers to pick you up, graciously decline. Plan to always have your own transportation (car, rideshare, or public transit) so you have the ability to exit the date at any time you’re ready, especially if a date isn’t going well or you feel uncomfortable.

If you are not sure where to turn, RAINN can help.

Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to talk confidentially with a trained professional from RAINN.

They can put you in touch with local resources and organizations that can help in your healing journey.

9 Red Flags to Look Out For When Using Online Dating

People who have nefarious plans in mind often give off early warning signs or other risk indicators. Never ignore the following red flags when online dating.

Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

Heed your feelings if a date starts making you feel uncomfortable in any way. Especially watch for any guilt-tripping, pushiness, hot-and-cold behavior, anger, or emotional outbursts. Don’t be afraid to block their online profile or text message abilities.

Doesn't Want to Meet in Public

Anyone who doesn’t want to meet in public should be an instant no-go. If the person is truly interested, they’ll completely understand your preference to meet in public places. Anyone not accepting of your preferences probably isn’t date material.

Claims to Be Recently Widowed with Children

People who claim to be recently widowed with children could signal a red flag. They might use their alleged status to gain a sympathetic ear, but their real intentions are to scam for money, get financial help, or inflict abuse.

Disappears and Reappears Under a Different Name

If you’re chatting with someone from a dating site or app and they suddenly disappear and then reappear with a new name to contact you, this is a huge warning sign. People who change their dating profile identities are likely trying to hide from something, such as having scammed someone else or getting caught lying.

Gives Vague Answers to Specific Questions

When chatting with someone you’re interested in, be sure to have plenty of conversation and ask specific questions. If the individual gives you vague answers to specific questions you ask, chances are they’ve got something to hide. Also, people who lie often answer vaguely to help keep stories straight, especially if talking to multiple online dating partners or running a scam.

Overly Complimentary and Romantic Early in Communication

It’s common for people to feel eager when trying to make a connection with another person, but the reality is good relationships take time. If any person is trying too hard to connect by being overly complimentary and romantic early on in communication, it is a big red flag.

Pushing to Meet in Person Right Away

With dates who are too eager to meet you right away, either one of two things is likely going on: they are so desperate for companionship that they’re not thinking clearly about their own safety, or they have a potentially harmful agenda in mind for you—neither are good signs.

Asking for Your Work or Home Address to Send Gifts

It’s always good practice to never share personal information, even if someone is claiming they want to send flowers or other gifts. This might be just a ruse to get you to share your address, cell phone number, or workplace location so that they can find you or commit identity theft.

Pushing for Phone Number / Personal Contact Info Outside of the App

Always stick to communications within a dating app to ensure safety. Anyone in a rush to move communications off the platform or offline completely could be dangerous.

What to Do if You Feel Unsafe on a Date

To keep yourself safe before going on a date with a new person you met online, follow the necessary safety precautions. Even if everything goes right at first, don’t let your guard down. Stick to your gut as well—if your instincts tell you something is wrong, chances are it probably is.

In Public

If you’re in a public place, try to subtly alert a server, bartender, or employee for help. Keep your phone close at hand so you can call someone easily. If you feel in danger at any time, immediately call 911.

Reach Out to a Friend

When something feels off, reach out to a friend with an “emergency” call to let them know you’re in trouble. If that doesn’t work, use the restroom (only if very public) and call from there. Another thing you can do is text someone you trust from under the table. Before the date, as a part of your code-word strategy, set a pre-determined emoji to quickly let your friend(s) know you’re worried.

Enforce Boundaries

Never feel bad or hesitate to enforce your boundaries. Anyone worth dating will understand you want to feel safe. If your date pressures you, makes you feel uncomfortable, or gives you the creeps, use your right to say no and walk away.

What to do if You've Been Sexually Assaulted by an Online Date

If you were sexually assaulted by your date, it’s not your fault. The person who hurt you is responsible for their actions. If you are the victim of a sexual perpetrator, here are some steps to take:

Safety First

After the assault, seek a safe place to go. Don’t go home alone. Call a friend, family member, or the police or go to the hospital. If possible, find someone nearby who can help you.

Seek Medical Attention

As soon as possible, get medical attention so you can be treated for injuries or other exposures perpetrated by your assailant. Also, consider consenting to a forensic exam within 72 hours. It will give authorities the evidence they need to arrest your attacker should you choose to file charges later. You won’t need to file charges immediately, but you’ll have evidence just in case.

Report to Local Authorities

It’s hard to report an assault. Many perpetrators scare their victims or coerce them into thinking they did something wrong. If this happens to you, remember you did nothing wrong. Try to report the crime to law enforcement as soon as possible so that a police report can be made. Every state has a statute of limitations for different crimes.

Speak with a Trained Professional for Help

Sexual assault is traumatizing and difficult to deal with. You don’t have to feel alone or ashamed about the incident. It’s a good idea to speak with a trained professional about your traumatic experience. They can offer support and refer you to local resources.

Helpful Resources

If you are unsure where to start, call National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to speak to a trained professional for help. The following websites can also help you connect with other victims and read the stories they’ve shared.

Online dating can be a good way to meet other single people. A lot of times it works out great. But if something does go wrong, never be afraid to use an exit option or reach out for help.

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