By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Millions of men and women turn to online dating to find love, meet their perfect matches, or just increase the pool of choices for prospective dates. While there are a number of safeguards that a majority of the more legitimate dating sites have in place to protect their members, there are still risks associated with Internet dating.
Does this mean that you should shut down the computer, head to your bedroom with a bucket of chocolate chip ice cream, and forget about the whole idea of finding your ideal match? No – of course not! It simply means that you need to take the risks seriously and do what’s needed to protect yourself.
Don’t Assume that the Dating Site will Protect You
Some of the most popular dating sites have taken steps to help protect their members, but there is a constant influx of both men and women who seek to take advantage of lonely – and sometimes desperate – individuals who use these services. Just because you pay good money every month to be a member of one of the more popular and established dating sites, don’t assume that you are fully protected.
Using Fake Names and Information
There are plenty of ways that people can take advantage of you when you’re using an Internet dating site. One of the most common ways is to rely on a fake name or a username that doesn’t provide much information about the person’s true identity. By posting phony information, such as date of birth, where they live, and even false pictures, people online can become just about anyone they want to be.
“But what about verification steps?” you may ask. Yes, some online dating sites require users to go through a verification process in order to confirm that they are who they claim to be. Some do this background check using personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, but a vast majority of these sites only require a credit card. This information can be altered, however, allowing an individual with fake credentials to come through as verified.
Online Dating Scams and Their Costs
In 2011, online dating scams cost victims more than $50 million in the United States alone, according to The Huffington Post. Yet the crimes that are committed through the use of online dating sites aren’t limited to monetary theft. Some con artists use personal information to steal identities, while more ruthless criminals have lured men and women into isolated environments to assault them or worse.
“But I don’t share personal information with anyone until I get to know them better.”
You may be careful enough to avoid sharing your phone number with potential matches, relying instead on the dating site’s internal chat features or email. You may even spend a great deal of time emailing and chatting back and forth with other members, trying to get to know them before you feel comfortable enough to meet in a highly visible and public place.
But con artists and criminals are patient and they know how to play the game. Some who have hacking abilities may even know how to find out everything they want to know about you through your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and your computer’s identifying information (IP address). They can gain access to this information through the open connection that you end up sharing with them through the dating site’s chat feature.
Whenever you log on to your online dating site, and whenever you agree to chat with another user through the site’s features – or maybe even through another option, such as Yahoo’s Instant Messenger or Skype – you are broadcasting your IP address, whether your chat partner knows how to access it or not. A simple ping feature will give this information to the person you’re talking to, enabling your chat partner to find out where you live and potentially access your hard drive if your network isn’t secure.
How to Protect Yourself on Dating Sites
There are a number of steps you can take to help protect yourself and your personal information when using online dating sites. Some of these steps may seem like common sense, but many men and women get caught up in the euphoria of meeting someone new and ultimately make serious lapses in judgment.
Never share personal information
It doesn’t matter whether it’s your phone number or direct email address—don’t share it with anyone until you’ve met that person in a safe public place, and he or she appears to be legitimate. Even then, you still may wish to exercise caution.
Use only your first name
Don’t give someone your full name. Unless you plan on marrying this wonderful person, your last name shouldn’t be a big deal in the beginning of your relationship. Stick to a first name basis only.
Never share your home address
Even if you’ve already been out on a few good dates, avoid giving out your home address. That’s about as personal as it gets, so you want to be exceptionally certain that you know this person and his or her true motivations.
Use a Virtual Private Network
When signing onto your online dating service, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) will keep your computer’s IP address and ISP private and hidden – no matter what capabilities or tools the person on the other end of the chat window has.
A VPN is essentially a new, more secure ISP. With a VPN, your personal information, including your computer’s IP address, are kept strictly confidential. No site and no one with whom you chat online can gain access to that information, helping you to stay safe from the scam artists that often troll Internet dating sites.
If your safety and security are your top priorities when using Internet dating services, using a VPN is the most important key to staying safe—and ultimately finding the perfect match!