E-Dating: The Virtual World of Online Dating Safety

“Oh geez, she looked nothing like her picture.”  Or, “his profile read “social drinker”, and he has three DUI’s.  These are just a couple of statements I have heard over the past few years since the advent of online dating.  Crime Survivors Inc. had some stimulating banter on this topic in reference to a recent Facebook post, so I have decided to share a bit more from my expertise on the topic.

            The essence of our Facebook conversation seemed to focus on the question of: Is online dating safe and how do I protect myself from predators that lurk these sites?  Online dating services usually provide unmoderated matchmaking over the Internet, through the use of personal computers or cell phones.  For the sake of this article, “unmoderated” will be the operative word.

         Unmoderated, unmanned robots and computers are guiding us toward our fate.  Seems scary, but even in 2004 on average, there were 40 million unique visitors to online dating sites each month in the U.S. (CBC News, 2004).  In fact, the online personals category is one of the most lucrative forms of paid content on the web in the United States (Egan, 2003) and the online dating market reached $642 million in 2008 (Greenspan, 2009). Therefore, based on these figures, you are not alone if you are venturing out to the virtual nightclub.  Here are some universal tips for your journey.

Read between the lines when ambiguous language is used in someone’s profile or chat.  Language is full of appeals whether written or spoke.  If something seems vague, ask clarifying questions.  Always try to find the bottom line and ascertain that hidden agendum.  Feelings are important, but one should not act on feelings alone.  One should have reasons for acting.  It is in the darkening of reasons that makes emotional appeals dangerous.  It is a natural human tendency to be subjective rather than objective and that the untrained mind will usually take the path of least resistance.  The path of least resistance is rarely through reason. 

Promote self-disclose.  If this person really likes you, there should be gradual disclosure of who they really are and vise versa.  This is standard communication theory that occurs in relationship building.  I tell you a little about me and you do the same, then more, and then a lot more.  Before you meet in person, you should have the other persons:  full name age, occupation, where they work, and phone numbers. 

Tell a friend.  Let friends or family know your intentions to meet someone you met online.  Let them know the location, time, and date of this rendezvous.  In fact, have that one person you really trust act as a moderator of sorts—call them and check in when the meeting is done.

Go public, very public.  Coffee shops are good for more than spending your kid’s college tuition and counting piercings on the barista.  They offer a busy and open environment that are usually equip with surveillance cameras.  Oh, and cops love coffee shops too—so I have heard.  Make a point to sit by the camera (if there is one) and make him/her face the lens.  Daytime meetings always seem to be a good start as there is no hard and fast rule for an initial night on the town.  Make them come to you and get there early.  This way you can watch them pull up in their car plastered with NRA stickers or get off the bus.  This is a good time to get a license plate.  I know this seems intrusive, but its your peace of mind were talking about.

Background checks are only good for creeps that are on the radar.  Do not put all of your virtual eggs in one basket.  Background checks provide only information that has been memorialized like criminal history, divorce, bankruptcy, etc.  Some of the most prolific criminals of our time would not have been found this way; ask Ted Bundy or Scott Peterson (Ted cannot get visitors anymore, sorry).   

         In closing, we at Crime Survivors are hardly dating coaches.  There are no absolutes in this matter, so please take your time on your journey to the happily ever after.  However, we have seen and heard our fair share of nightmares regarding relationships, so we are just looking out for you.  I kept the topic short and general, so if you have questions, let me know.  I have access to some good data on the matter that would take pages to write and make heads drop on the keyboard in reading boredom.  On a side note, it is not all doom and gloom.  I met my amazing wife online and I am the proud father of the most beautiful boy in the world.      

About the Author- Cameron Knauerhaze, M.A. is the President of Crime Survivors Inc.  He is a communications graduate of Gonzaga University.  During his studies, he was involved numerous projects related to human and computer mediated communications. He is also a 15- year law enforcement professional with an extensive background in investigations.