Anyone who has ever heard of the Internet, whether they have used an Internet dating service or not, is well aware of some of the dangers that dating over the World Wide Web can pose. The fact is, if you Internet dating can actually be a more rewarding experience than dating out in the “real world”, and you may even be more insulated from a negative experience on the Internet that you would be in a face to face situation. The Internet offers several screening experiences that are simply not possible when dating face-to-face, and using these opportunities to your advantage can result in an extremely successful online dating experience.
In order to remain safe on the online dating site, start off your experience with each prospective date with caution. I recommend a step-by-step elevation process. Begin your search through the use of a screen name that others will address you as when they wish to contact you. Progressing to first names is not too big a step, but giving out your last name certainly is- do not do it until you have spent a reasonable amount of time talking to the other person and have a feel for the kind of person they are. Set up a separate email account for communicating with potential dates, and never give out any personal information on the first communications. If you feel the other person is pressing you for this information, be prepared to stop communication (if they are pressuring you on something like this already, the odds are good that you will face further pressures if you establish a relationship anyway).
Pay a lot of attention to what the other person is saying, and make sure to register any comments they make that are suspicious or contradictory as you talk. Don’t rush into anything- you don’t have to meet until you are both comfortable. As you chat, you will both need to establish a direct and forthright rapport with each other, in order to establish the trust which is necessary for a face-to-face meeting (this is one of the unique aspects of Internet dating- the foundation of trust is already there before you have even really met, therefore if it all seems to be working out you are several steps ahead of where you would be if you had met in the flesh initially).
Some hard evidence is always good to establish some trust and a deepening of the relationship. Request a photo, and be prepared to reciprocate. It can be daunting to send that photo, but if the goal is to meet eventually then you are going to see each other sooner or later anyway.
Finally, when it comes time to meet, make sure it is in a highly visible area, with many other people around. Don’t be too private on the first date- dinner at a restaurant, a movie in a theater- something with plenty of other people around as you get to really know the person.
Internet dating is growing in popularity and can be a great way to find and establish a great relationship. The mantra “there are a lot of weirdos out there” certainly rings true, but the simple fact is that this is also true in “real” life. Exercising some additional caution in Internet dating will ensure that you have safe experiences, although just like in real life they may not always bear fruit.