The latest statistics suggest that half of us now meet people to date online. This is a phenomenal change in just five years.
Gone are the days where saying you did online dating was tantamount to saying you ate children. Now even your mum and dad will barely raise an eyebrow when you say you are meeting someone from a dating site.
In part, this is down to the great advertising budgets now available to the top sites such as match.com, plenty of fish and eHarmony. The constant TV advertising has made them socially normal.
In fact, amongst the younger generation, dating sites are a bit old hat. They have now been replaced by the under 30s with apps such as Tinder. If you think an online dating site is a safety concern, just wait until you use an app where there are absolutely no safeguards in place.
This article is not going to deal with general safety tips for online dating. What we are going to talk about are online dating safety tips relating specifically to maintaining your privacy and anonymity, while revealing how shockingly easy it is to stalk someone once you obtain just a few personal details.
Don’t Make Yourself Searchable
It’s a sad fact, that a lot of people use the same username is for all the sites they use.
So for example, “custardcat56” may be a wonderful username that you love to use, but if you use it on forums, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and a dating site, you are creating what is known as a “footprint”.
If somebody searches for your username from the dating site, and you use the same username elsewhere, they can often piece together details which give a unique picture about you, often within minutes.
A lot of people for example use the same username on a dating site as they do for their eBay account. Within two minutes, somebody can see the town or city you live in and what you are buying off eBay.
As well as potentially knowing your shoe size, it also means they could interact with you on eBay by buying something from you. This will share with them your physical address.
Don’t Arrogantly Assume You Have No Online History
A top online dating safety tip I can offer you here is to not assume people cannot find out who you are and where you live.
Too many of you think that because you don’t have accounts online that you are untouchable.
I’m going to tell you the shocking truth that in most cases a stalker could find out your full name and address in less than two minutes.
There are several ways to do this, but let’s show you the main two methods. This will make you aware of how you need to conceal your identity and to sure about somebody you are messaging on a dating site.
Simply by asking a few details about you in online messaging, somebody can easily find out your first name and the rough area you live in. It’s so innocuous on the surface, you may not even realise what you are giving them.
But by giving them your first name, and the rough area you live in, they can easily find the postcode relating to that area. Then all they have to do is to visit an electoral roll website such as 192.com and search for your first name in that postcode area.
Usually, it will bring up a list of a few dozen possible addresses, if you are lucky. If you have an unusual first name, then you may be instantly locatable.
But by then piecing together other innocuous details, they can nail down exactly where you live. For example, one lady I spoke to in online dating was telling me about how much trouble she was having with a shed in her front garden. All I had to do, was go on to Google Earth, keenly addresses from the electoral roll search site and then look for a front garden with a shed in it.
I found it in three minutes. I then went back onto the dating site and asked her another innocuous sounding question. I joked about her shed, and asked if it needed painting as well as repairing. She said yes it did, as it was currently hideous shade of blue.
The shed in the photo on Google Earth was blue.
And to make it even easier for them, tell them your kids names. Census data is also available on sites such as 192.com. So all they have to do is look for a household containing yours and your children’s first names and they have found your address.
Don’t Forget Facebook Security When You Are Considering Online Dating Safety
Searching on Facebook for a christian name and city will bring up list of close matches.
As most people use photos on dating sites that they also have on their Facebook profile, it’s usually quite quick to spot that person as you scroll through.
Unless your security settings on Facebook are top-notch, then they will then be up to see details about you from your Facebook profile. Even if your security is good, what about your friends? By seeing who your friends are, they can visit their Facebook profiles as well and glean potential information from them.
I once had a bet with somebody I only knew online, who said I would not be able find out details about them. They said they had been stalked in the past and so were now very careful in what they did online.
Using a combination of what I’ve outlined here, plus a couple of tricks I won’t share here, I was able to find out their full name, ex-partners names, children’s names, the school her children were at, what shoe size she was, what the house and garden looked like from the outside, and even through Pinterest, what the inside of the house layout was.
Oh, and a photo of her standing next to her car. Just so I could see what car she drove and her registration number.
Never assume you are safe just because you are “careful”. Most people are far from careful in reality.
Ensure Online Dating Safety By Setting Up A New Identity
Here are the top tips for making sure you are difficult to find while doing online dating:
1. Use a unique username that you only use on the dating site.
2. Do not put your real name on your profile and do not share your real name with anyone messaging you until you are sure about them.
3. Avoid sharing unique details about yourself until you trust someone. So don’t talk in great detail about what your road looks like, or any general details about your locality.
4. Use unique photos that are not on your Facebook page and make sure your Facebook security settings are tight.
5. Consider your online historical “footprint”. Try searching for yourself using snippets of details about yourself. Have you been in the paper locally? Do you run a local business and perhaps have your photo and business address on the website?
As an example of this, another lady I was talking to proudly said she was very careful with her online identity. I said to her that unless she didn’t want to be online at all then unfortunately it was easy to find out her identity in minutes. She didn’t believe me.
I said to her, that although she had not told me her name or any other details about herself, I reckoned I could find out who she was in minutes. The only detail she had given me was that she lived in the same city as me, and ran a cleaning company.
All I did was a quick Google search for cleaning companies in my city, and then looked through them for photos of the staff. In less than five minutes I had found an about us page where not only was there a photo of the lady I was speaking to, but also her business address and a mobile phone number.
She was shocked.
The thing is, I have used these tactics secretly to check people out before committing to a date with them. In online dating, people always show the best of themselves and often it’s not the truth. So I always dig for details and then suss them out online if possible.
But you can guarantee others are using exactly the same tactics in order to stalk people, harass them and maybe even blackmail them.
The Top Online Dating Safety Tip Is To Never Assume Anything
No matter what you think, you are not anonymous online and even the most innocent of details can be easily pieced together to pinpoint your location.
And did you know that if you take a photo on your smartphone with GPS enabled that location is written into the photo’s digital code?
If you take a photo on your phone, and then send it to somebody else unaltered, so via email for example, they could extract GPS location data from it.
Do you feel safe now?
So think through everything by educating yourself about what is possible. Set up a new email address that you have never used before. A new Skype address. Use a different christian name, or an abbreviated, or slightly different version of it.
Don’t mention details about your work, friends, or surroundings in any detail. And don’t share photos that could give someone coordinates to where the photo was taken, or photos that show personal details that can be traceable.
Having said all that, don’t live in fear. 99.9% of the people you meet online are almost completely normal. But by making sure you keep your guard up by being informed about how much detail people can get, you can protect yourself against the dangerous 0.01%.