The internet offers so many different and exciting opportunities to explore, share information, and meet new people. In Part 1: Find Love. Step 3. (Where To) Start Looking For Love., internet/online dating was introduced as one of the common places to look for love, which was then extended in Online Dating – The Best Dating Websites & Apps To Look For Love. Find Keep Love also covered the potential of Facebook as a dating tool in Online Dating – Could A Facebook Dating App Become The World’s Biggest Dating Site?
But using the internet can put you at risk of illegal activities or abuse, including bullying, fraud, cyber crime or something more serious. Unlike seeing someone face to face, people aren’t always what they first seem in the digital world. In this post, Find Keep Love looks at how to stay safe online, so that you can utilise the huge potential of the internet to enjoy meeting new friends and date safely.
- Protect your privacy on social networking sites. Almost everyone nowadays is connected via one or more social network, such as Facebook, Google+, Sina Weibo [Chinese], LinkedIn, Bebo and so on. Check your social media privacy settings and the information you are allowing into the public domain and to your connections. The abundant personal information available on such sites is a predator’s dream come true. Set up privacy restrictions to give only trusted people access to personal information and activities. Do not give strangers access to your social networking sites, but if you must connect with strangers for some reason (some games encourage you to build a large social network), make sure you restrict their access.
- Understand the settings for your GPS and geolocation services on your electronic devices, as well as your social media networks. Consider turning off the GPS on your mobile phones and cameras, unless you want people to know where you are. You may be inadvertently be posting your location when you post photos, status updates, and so on. To keep your location private, avoid sending or posting images from GPS-enabled devices.
- Don’t give out private personal information online. Unless you are 100% sure of the person you are giving it to, of course. Use discretion when deciding what information to reveal about yourself, but never, ever disclose private information such as bank details, your passport number, account passwords, and so on.
- Keep your login information and passwords private and secure. Your passwords are the most common way to prove your identity when using websites, email accounts and even your computer itself (via User Accounts). Avoid public or shared computers where login information can be saved or cached, and avoid automatic login features and do not save passwords to avoid entering a password. The use of strong (varied and difficult) passwords is essential to protect your security and identity. The best security in the world is useless if a malicious person has a legitimate user name and password. Here are some tips for choosing the best passwords:
- Choose a password with a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and keyboard symbols such as @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ +. For example, SP1D3Rm@n – a variation of Spiderman, with letters and numbers, upper and lower case. But be aware that some of these punctuation marks may be difficult to enter on foreign keyboards.
- Choose a password containing at least eight characters. Longer passwords are harder for criminals to guess or break.
Don’t use the following as passwords:
- Your username, actual name or business name.
- Family members’ or pets’ names.
- Your birthday or the birthdays of family members.
- Favourite sports team or other words easy to work out with a little background knowledge of your likes and dislikes.
- The word ‘password’ (you’d be surprised how many people use this as their deafult password!).
- Numerical sequences.
- A commonplace dictionary word, which could be cracked by common hacking programs.
- Protect your computer from viruses, malware and spyware. Use software, such as free software like Microsoft Security Essentials, Avast, AVG or McAfee’s free virus removal tools.
- A dating site should provide online security – HTTPS
- It should delete all your personal data after you close the account.
- It should be upfront about how it shares your personal information with other members.
- It should be upfront about who else gets to see your data.
- It should indicate whether the dating site shares your e-mail address with third parties.
- Does it give you a chance to opt out?
- Does it provide the name of a real human being to contact if you have questions?
- Use an email address without your full name or use a pseudonym or nickname. If you use a work or personal email account, your full name may appear on any email you send. With your full name and location, someone may find your address and even phone number via people search websites like 192.com. To get around this, we suggest you get a free email account (for example, from Yahoo Mail, Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Outlook.com) and avoid using your last name. You may even want to use a different first name – try making up a fun nickname like “StaticKitten”. This nickname doesn’t need to be your screen name.
- Take your time and don’t rush into things. Do not feel compelled or pressured to do anything you are not completely comfortable with. The online world allows for anonymity, which can work for you and against you. Start with a few emails back and forth or use online chat (some dating websites offer this as part of their package), then a few phone calls, before meeting in person. A highly recommended alternative to the phone is Skype, which offers free video calls over the internet and cheap calls to phones. There are also a number of smartphone apps, like Line, WhatsApp*, ooVoo, Viber and Tango that offer various combinations of free messaging and audio/video calling.
*WhatsApp is now a paid service.
- Be aware that webcams and Skype calls may be recorded. Be extremely wary about removing clothes or doing other private things in front of your webcam, which could be used against you, even if you feel comfortable with and think you know the other party. It is really easy these days to record both video and audio using a number of different software packages. Some chat websites, for example, cache live images to show on your profile. Webcam blackmail is becoming more commonplace, where fraudsters record your webcam then use the recording to extort money. Emails, messages, screen captures and so on can be forwarded to others at the click of a button, so be careful what you do and say.
- When you do meet your new date (especially the first time), do it with a friend and in a public place. If you can’t arrange a friend to be there physically with you (or nearby), at least tell a friend or family member and check in with them at some stage during the date.
- Never leave or go home with them. Be wary if they suggest going somewhere more private (unless the date is going well and heading in that direction). If you begin to feel uncomfortable (in a more serious way, not those normal dating jitters) or unsafe, leave the situation as soon as possible.
- Report any attacks or threats to the police immediately.
Are you as safe as you should be online? Have you ever had a bad experience with someone or something online?
With these tips – and following the dos and don’ts in our post on Part 1: Find Love. First Date Dos and Don’ts – you’ll ensure your date is both safe and enjoyable.
A special thanks goes to Alastair at CitizenArc for providing a number of useful tips for this article. CitizenArc is a West London-based computer support service offering technical support and professional training for individuals and businesses, specialising in Apple Mac and iOS.
For more information on staying safe online, check out Google’s post on How you can stay safe and secure online.