How to Be Safe When Dating Online

Do allegations that a woman was sexually assaulted by a man she met on Match.com have you worried? Try these tips

After meeting online, now you've met in person -- he's attractive, witty and there don't seem to be any red flags. Safe bet for a second date, right? Disturbingly, that wasn't true for Match.com customer Carole Markin. After a second dinner date with the potential man of her dreams, he allegedly followed her home and sexually assaulted her. Only after the assault did Markin learn that he had been previously convicted of several counts of sexual battery. Now, just days after she filed a civil lawsuit against Match.com -- not for money, but for a change in its screening policies -- the popular dating site announced it will begin screening all users against a national sex offender registry.

Though the decision might ease some concerns, it simultaneously makes us wonder why it took this kind of incident for Match.com to implement such a basic precaution. Another popular dating site, eHarmony.com, has screened against national sex registries for years and even has an email hotline for those who are concerned for their safety. But the reality is, how much can a woman truly rely on such safeguards in the online dating world?

Karin Anderson and Beth Roberts, co-authors of Finding Your Mate Online, say online dating is no more or less dangerous than dating out in the "real" world. You can’t let even the most reliable dating Web sites replace your own intuition and common sense or keep you from taking safety precautions when meeting someone new. Anderson and Roberts suggest following these five safety tips when seeking your match online or off:

1. Google him! In this day and age, Googling is almost second nature to find the answer to any question crossing your mind. So why not do it when you meet someone you think could be your soul mate?

2. Let him know that you've told others where you'll be, with whom and the phone number of the location you're at. While Anderson emphasizes there is no shame in being blunt and telling him you've taken these precautions, you can also slip this into conversation with a bit more tact: "I left our names and the number of this restaurant with my sister in case she needs to get in touch with me. We're having a small family crisis and sometimes my cell phone coverage isn't great." Remember, there's no need to feel embarrassed that you've taken these steps -- it simply makes you a smart woman. One way or another, make sure he knows others are aware of where you are at all times.

3. Are you getting a bad vibe? Listen to your gut. Your intuition should override any type of checklist. Red flags often become apparent when a man tries to intimidate or embarrass you into a decision you're not prepared to make. If you ask to meet at a public place, but he responds by pressuring you to change your mind and asks, "Don't you trust me?", take a large step back.

4. Send your date's phone number, email and any other pertinent information to at least two friends before meeting him. Plus, then you can get your friends' feedback and perspective on your new suitor.

5. Assuming he is employed and has told you where he works, get his work number and verify it. It will put your mind at ease by confirming his honesty and by making you feel assured that, in most cases, he has been vetted at a preliminary level by his company. After several email exchanges, it should be easy enough to get that number.

When going out on a date,  the most important thing to remember is not to let embarrassment win out over protecting yourself. Taking these safety precautions only makes you a smarter, more confident woman -- exactly what the man of your dreams is looking for.

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