February is the month of love and many South Africans are firing up their smartphones, using apps like Tinder, OkCupid and DatingBuzz to find romance. Today’s singletons are lucky to be able to choose potential partners from thousands upon thousands of matches on these apps.
But it’s also important to protect yourself from stalkers, scammers and other people who might abuse your trust when you look for an online date. Most people encounter no worse problem than an awkward date or two with someone with whom they are not compatible. And in most cases, caution and a good gut feel will keep you safe.
Here are a few practical ideas about how you can enjoy a good time with online dating while staying safe:
1. Interact within the app until you have done a check on the potential partner
Spend some time chatting to the person within your dating app before you share your email address or phone number. That way, they won’t be able to track you down or harass you if you decide not to date them. Plus, the limited functionality of the app (many won’t let people send photos to each other) may spare you the violation of receiving unwanted, explicit photos.
2. Meet in a public place for the first date or two
Until you know your date a bit better, it’s wise not to agree to meet them in a secluded setting (like for a picnic beneath the stars in the bush) or in their home. Rather have your first date somewhere public like a bar, coffee shop or a restaurant, where other people can help you if you feel threatened or uncomfortable.
3. Arrange your own transport
It may sound romantic to be picked up from your home to be whisked away for an evening of romance, but it can limit your options for getting away if you decide you don’t trust your date or simply are not enjoying yourself. Rather drive your own car to the date or order your own Uber, than give someone you don’t yet know very well your home address.
4. Keep in touch with a friend
Let a trusted friend know where you are going on your date with someone new. If you are feeling especially cautious, you could ask them to phone or text you an hour into the date for a quick check-in.
5. Don’t share personal information too early in your interactions with someone
When you’re sending some flirty and witty messages back and forth with someone on a dating app, it can be surprisingly easy to get swept away in the moment. But take care about sharing your address, photos of yourself (especially intimate ones), banking information, social media handles or your location until you’ve established that they are who they say they are.