Staying safe while having fun

Much has been made of the potential for trickery and deception online, especially in romance. An army of national media will take up the flag for a woman who marries a man she meets online only to later discover that her husband is actually a woman, but few reporters point out that the dating game in the real world can also be fraught with duplicity. Online dating reflects the real word. While liars, cheaters and impostors certainly ply their craft on the Web, you'll also find them in nightclubs, among the members of dating services, at cocktail parties and occasionally sitting across from you at the breakfast table. Regardless of where, or how, you meet someone, dating is always a gamble. A little caution will reduce your risk in these matters of the heart.

Don't give your trust away
In a perfect world we would all be governed by an innate desire to love and respect one another. In that world, trust would be our default assumption. But in today's real and virtual and worlds, you must guard against trusting the untrustworthy and giving away your love under circumstances that could come back to haunt you. Exercise caution and proceed slowly. What do you really know about this person? How can you be sure? Any suitor must earn your trust gradually, through consistently honorable, forthright behavior. Don't give it away for the asking -- and you will be asked. As an added precaution, consider setting up a secondary email account, to be used just for this relationship, which you can shut down should things seem not right.

Honor your hunches
We are intuitive people, yet we often dismiss intuition in favor of seemingly hard facts and logical explanations. Trust yourself. Go with your instincts, even when they can't be logically explained. When something feels wrong, it generally is. When someone appears untrustworthy, they usually are. If you want to substantiate an intuitive hunch, hire a service to check on your suitor's background (criminal records, home ownership, bankruptcy, divorce, etc.). These services can be found on the Web or in your Yellow Pages under Investigators. While background information may reassure you about someone's history, it provides no guarantees about future behavior. Ask yourself why you are dating someone you feel the need to investigate.

Watch for red flags
The trained eye often easily spots the unscrupulous. They betray themselves with inconsistency and unexplainable behavior. You should be concerned if your date does any of the following without providing an acceptable explanation:

· Frequently disappears and becomes unreachable by phone or email
· Provides inconsistent information about age, interests, appearance, marital status, profession, employment, and so on
· Refuses to speak to you on the phone after establishing ongoing, online intimacy
· Refuses to give you a home number and only calls you from work
· Doesn't provide direct answers to direct questions
· Appears in person to be significantly different from his or her online persona
· Never introduces you to friends, professional associates or family members

Be responsible and trustworthy yourself
Some say that the lines between honesty, exaggeration and deception have blurred, especially in print personals and online dating. Is it a crime to represent yourself as a few years younger, especially when your friends frequently comment that you don't look your age? Has thinning hair become a euphemism for bald? If we want to hear the truth, we must start by telling the truth, even when it isn't easy or advantageous. And we must conduct ourselves and our romances in a responsible manner. Don't fall in love at the click of a mouse. Don't become prematurely intimate with someone, even if that intimacy only occurs online. Live by standards of honesty and decency. Let the buck stop with you.

This article originally appeared on Match.Com.

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