Recent reports of a Mpumalanga-based man who confessed to allegedly murdering five women he met on Facebook have again brought safety concerns around online dating to the fore.
Research suggests that these concerns are warranted: According to a report by international anti-virus firm, Kaspersky, as many as 1 in 3 people are dating online, approximately 57% of online daters have admitted to being dishonest and about 55% have experienced some sort of threat or problem while dating online.
“Online dating sites have revolutionised the world of dating. It’s a fun and easy way to meet people without even having to leave your house. That said, the reality is that one should be cautious when engaging and meeting with strangers.
You should be aware of the dangers associated with online dating, be clued up on the warning signs and be extra vigilant so that you can protect yourself if the need arises,” says Casey Rousseau from 1st for Women Insurance.
Tips and guidelines to make your online dating experience a safe one:
• Make sure that you are using a reputable dating or social media site. Do an online search to find out about other users’ experiences with the site.
• If the potential love interest asks for money from you, or is inconsistent in terms of the information provided, swipe left and move on.
• Be aware of sextortion scams where steamy pictures of videos received are then used for blackmail.
• Check the geographical settings on the site. It is likely that other people will be able to see your general location, but your specific address should not be visible. Your location settings on social media (revealing where you check in etc.) should also be restricted.
• Research potential matches by doing online searches on platforms such as LinkedIn, which will provide you with information beyond what you will see on Facebook or Instagram.
• Speak to your date on the phone before you agree to meet. Speaking to someone gives you a better idea of who they are.
• Always take your own car. Do not let your date pick you up from your home or your workplace. The first reason is that you don’t want someone who is essentially a stranger to know where you live. The second is that you don’t want them to be driving, which puts them in complete control over where they take you.
• Meet in a busy, public setting. This ensures that there are other people around should you feel uncomfortable or require help.
• Tell a friend or family member where you’re meeting and give them an estimated time you should be back. This way somebody will be aware if plans have gone awry.
• Provide a friend with your date’s telephone number and arrange to send a message at a specific time to let them know that everything is going well.
• Arrange for a good friend or group of friends to be in the same area, in case you urgently need their assistance.
• Don’t drink too much – tempting as it may be to calm those first date nerves. You need to keep a clear head – being under the influence of alcohol could leave you vulnerable and impair your judgement and inhibitions. Also keep a close eye on your drink at all times to make sure that nothing suspicious is added to it.
• Don’t give away too many personal details when you first meet. Your place of work, address and regular hangouts are details to be shared once you know each other a little better.
• Carry pepper spray – and know how to use it. This could keep you safe in the worst- case scenario.
“Most importantly, remember that your safety is your first priority. If at any point you feel that something isn’t right, excuse yourself, stand up and leave or ask for help – you should never worry about sparing someone’s feelings or being polite,” Rousseau concludes.