Our daily lives are increasingly impacted by our use of the Internet and social media: we can get almost any item delivered to our doorstep, keep in touch with friends from across the world and answer virtually any question within seconds. A growing number of people are also finding the love of their life online.
Online dating has become immensely popular, and the stigma of e-dating has decreased in recent years. Twenty million people now visit a dating site at least once a month and it’s estimated that online dating is responsible for 120,000 marriages a year. However, more and more people are starting to find their significant others on platforms not primarily designed for matchmaking.
Denis Lafargue of Mandeville, LA and Elizabeth Wisdom of Mineola, TX found each other on photo—and video—sharing social network, Instagram, in 2012. Wisdom had posted a photo of Crater Lake in Oregon and Lafargue commented on it. The two followed each other and started commenting back and forth, eventually deciding to meet in person in New Orleans.
They had been dating for nine months until Lafargue proposed in June, using 30 Instagram pictures they had taken while together to create a timeline of their relationship at a barn at Wisdom’s grandmother’s house. Wisdom always wanted to get married there and the couple is currently planning their wedding at the old barn in Texas.
As romantic as this Instagram love story sounds, online dating can actually be dangerous since you interact with complete strangers on the Internet who can pose as whoever they wish. In 2007, a Philadelphia nursing student was convicted of sexual assault of several women he had lured through online dating websites. He pretended to be a doctor, an astronaut, and even a spy, then drugged and raped his victims in his apartment.
While this is a particularly gruesome case, online dating cons in general are very common. “Catfishing” refers to a scam where somebody poses as a love interest just to convince the other person to give him or her money. In 2011 alone, the FBI estimated that collective losses resulting from catfishing added up to over $50 million.
How to protect yourself
To avoid becoming a victim of an online dating scam, you should take certain precautions, both online and offline.
Never reply to money requests or disclose any financial information (report such requests immediately).
Be careful about sharing personal information like your full name, phone number, address, etc.
Pay close attention to what the other person is telling you, if their facts don’t add up or seem fishy stop communication with them (block and report them if necessary).
If the person passed the “online screening test” and you’re confident enough to meet in real life, remain cautious. Find out who that person is by typing their name into a search engine, reviewing public information made available by government offices, or by conducting a criminal background check on sites like www.instantcheckmate.com.
Meet and stay in a public place.
Don’t let yourself be pressured to go to someone’s home (leave immediately if that’s the case).
Tell friends about your plans, and keep your phone with you.
Drive yourself or take a cab to the meeting, so you can leave anytime.
Watch your personal belongings.
Lastly, stay sober and if you have a drink, keep it with you at all times.
If you follow these precautions, you should have a safe online dating experience, whether you meet on a traditional dating website like match.com or on a social media platform such as Instagram. Maybe one day you too will have a cute story to tell your grandchildren about love in the age of social media.