The Dangers of Internet Dating

By Kim Boatman

After four years of dating as an age 50-plus single, Sue Barenholtz knows what she’s looking for in a companion.

“I have a list of things I must have before I even consider going out with a man,” says Barenholtz, who runs a Phoenix-based social community for Baby Boomer women (WildBoomerWomen.com). “I share these with my friends, and I’m always surprised that very intelligent women just go on a leap of faith.”

It’s not unusual for daters to consider what they hope to find in a love interest. However, Barenholtz, who takes precautions to protect her personal information and more, has the sort of savvy daters need when it comes to relationships these days. Increasingly, relationships begin online. The number of online dating sites has exploded, and so has the number of scammers trying to target your personal information.

Be Aware of Internet Dating Red Flags
As with most online activities, crowds of legitimate users are interspersed with con artists who are eager to capitalize on an opportunity to scam victims out of cash and personal information. Jennifer Litwin, a lifestyle reporter for several TV news outlets, uncovered some alarming statistics during undercover work on an online dating investigation. She paid for online background checks and discovered that on one reputable online site, eight out of 10 men had lied on their resumes.

Barenholtz, Litwin and relationship and security experts say you should note these Internet dating red flags:

  • Limited availability. Is the person available only during certain times or certain days for online conversation or calls? Be concerned if “they can’t arrange their schedule or find the time to meet you,” cautions Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist and dating/relationship coach (Consum-Mate.com). “They are always away, working overtime or dealing with personal issues they can’t take a break from.”
  • Offers limited or conflicting information. “I won’t go out with a guy unless he gives me his full name and phone number,” says Barenholtz. “I’ve had some who won’t, and I won’t go out with them. I made my friend do this recently. She had been out with a guy two to three times and still didn’t get his last name. I told her I would not let her go out with him again until she got it. She told the guy, and he asked if she was going to look him up. When she said yes, he refused, and my girlfriend finally realized there might be something wrong.”
  • Sounds too good to be true. In that case, says Coleman, “they usually are.”
  • Talks about money. “Discussion of money or loans in any capacity is a red flag,” says security expert Robert Siciliano. Watch out for scammers who ask for financial help to purchase transportation in order to have your first offline meeting, advises Coleman. If a potential date asks for money, report that person to the online dating community.
  • Wants to move too quickly. Whirlwind romances might sound romantic, but they pose a threat to your financial and personal security when it comes to online dating. Be wary of potential companions ready to sweep you off your feet and profess their undying love after just a few online conversations. Also be cautious of those who quickly want to take conversations to an email or messaging service outside the online dating site.

Smart Steps to Protect Yourself Against Internet Dating Dangers
You can take a number of steps to protect yourself when you pursue love online. Experts offer these tips:

  • Stick with reputable sites. Read reviews and check with friends. Thoroughly check out a site before posting a profile. It’s a good idea to read the security tips that some sites offer. For instance, eHarmony offers guidelines at eHarmony.com/Safety/Tips, and Match.com’s checklist can be found at Match.com/Help/SafetyTips.aspx.
  • Protect your personal information. Identity thieves attempt to harvest personal details such as your address, phone number and more. Remember that seemingly insignificant information, such as your pet’s name, might help someone discover your passwords. (Tip: Make your passwords stronger than that!) Don’t post your complete name on a profile; use a nickname or alias. Create a dedicated email account that you use solely for online dating.
  • Conduct online searches. Simply typing a potential companion’s name into a Web browser can tell you a lot. If you can’t find anything on the person, cancel the date, warns Barenholtz. Be willing to read past the first few pages, conducting deeper research, she says.
  • Pay for a background check. You’ll find initial background checks quite reasonable, says Litwin. “To do a more complete background search on any one person you want to date exclusively may be prudent, based on our research of the different men,” she notes.
  • Follow smart tech security practices. For instance, be wary of scammers who attempt to direct you to look-alike dating sites. Click on the wrong link, and you could be downloading malware that records your sensitive information. Never click on links in emails or messages. Don’t sign on to your dating profiles from public computers. And keep your security software updated.

While it is indeed exhilarating to find new love, it’s best to keep your wits about you when pursuing Internet dating, caution experts. “Don’t let your heart get in the way of basic common sense,” says Siciliano.

Kim Boatman  is a Silicon Valley, Calif., journalist who writes about security and technology. She spent more than 15 years writing about a variety of topics for the San Jose Mercury News.


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