How to Protect Yourself From a Dangerous First Date

safe dating onlineCould you be more vulnerable to crime thanks to online dating? According to statistics released by the Daily Mail, the answer is yes. In the U.K., crime was linked to online dating in 378 crime reports, up from 180 in 2013. Crimes included rape, violent crimes, and blackmail. According to a National Crime Agency study, attacks are most likely to happen on the very first date.

“This emerging threat appears to be a result of the increasing popularity of online dating – including free and subscription services, dating websites, apps and ‘hook up’ services- combined with the behaviours and expectations fostered by an online environment,” explained the report.

Online dating is becoming a ubiquitous way to meet people, and 42% of all Americans have said that they know an online dater. Many people even know of married couples who found each other through various apps and websites — almost a fourth of online daters say that online dating led to a long term relationship or marriage.

What holds many people back from participating in online dating is still the relative lack of safety and security involved with the process. In many cases, it’s impossible to know if someone’s pictures on an online dating site are really them — or even if it’s their real name!

It’s possible to have a safe dating online experience — you just need to be careful. For instance, the report points out that sexual offenders often exploit dating websites by carefully cultivating a feeling of familiarity.

“[The ease of access] is aided by potential victims not thinking of them as strangers, but someone they have got to know,” says the report.

No matter how charming, safe or comfortable a stranger seems online, always remember that they are a stranger — and bad guys don’t necessarily give off obvious red flags before you meet them. Always meet in a public place, tell someone where you are going, and have your phone charged. If necessary, have a friend call at a specific time to make sure everything is going okay.

For safe dating online, you can also research what background checks, if any, certain dating sites perform. Safe online dating sites will make sure that your matches are listing their real names, their relationship status, and that they don’t have a criminal conviction. In general, paid sites tend to offer more security and support than free sites do.

There are almost 55 million U.S. singles, so dating websites aren’t going away anytime soon. Safe dating online isn’t an outdated practice. If anything, statistics show that it’s more important than ever.