Meeting and chatting with someone online and sharing intimate feelings and hopes can make you believe you know someone well. All of this can happen in a very compressed period of time, which can often foster a false sense of security before you meet in person.
Every year, hundreds of incidents are reported to police, by both men and women, where the first date hasn’t gone as hoped, or where the person you meet isn’t who you thought they would be.
We have also seen an increase in sexual assaults as a result of people meeting up after speaking on dating websites or apps, often at the victim's home.
Unfortunately we know that offenders can sometimes use dating sites and apps as a way to target new victims. Some platforms allow users to create anonymous accounts, or allow users to delete them without holding backup copies of that account, its interactions or conversations.
Whilst we would never discourage anyone from using these sites and apps, we would urge people to consider the following advice to help keep themselves safer when online dating:
Know who you’re talking to
Whether it’s an app you’re on or a dating site, be aware of the amount of information on offer from the people you are chatting to. If someone has minimal information about themselves, they might not be who they say they are. Whether it’s an app or a dating site, be aware that the person is a stranger – regardless of what their social media accounts may indicate in regards to their lifestyle.
Leave a paper trail
As tempting as it may be to rush into the first date before really getting to know each other online, gathering some basic information about your date is important. Even if it is just a telephone number and an email address - make sure you have contact details about your date beyond their online user name.
Opt for a neutral meeting place
When meeting someone for the first time, arrange your date in a public place - and never accept an invite to a person’s house. The same goes for being picked up in their car from your house.
Consider meeting for the first time during the day and always tell a friend, colleague or family member where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. It’s also a good idea to give them regular updates to let them know you’re ok.
Keep contact details private
Stay in control when it comes to how and when you share information and don’t include too many personal details on any online profiles. Don't include information such as your email address, home address, place of work or phone number in your profile or initial communications. It is impossible to get back information once you have given it away.
Stop communicating with anyone who attempts to pressure you into providing your personal or financial information or who seems to be trying to trick you into providing it. If this happens contact the dating provider immediately to not only protect yourself but other users too.
Dating or romance fraud is when you think you’ve met your perfect partner online, but they aren’t who they say they are.
Ask for Angela
Many Hertfordshire pub and bar venues now support the Ask for Angela campaign, which aims to keep people safe while out dating.
Further advice and information is available from the Online Dating Association.