By Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast

Precautions for safe online dating
Online dating should be safe and enjoyable, but there are steps people should consider before swiping

A new decade has begun and Valentine’s Day is just a couple of weeks away; New Year’s resolutions and Valentine’s Day could trigger many to start searching online for that special someone. There are many benefits to online dating, such as preselecting possible dates while at home or while on-the-go, avoiding awkward situations or let downs when first approaching somebody, and simply having a large selection of singles that live in the vicinity to choose from. There are also serious offline risks associated with online dating that could be avoided by taking certain precautions.

Before signing up:
Prior to even signing up for an online dating platform, it’s important to check the privacy settings across all social media accounts, not just the one that will be used to connect to a dating platform. Users should make sure information such as hometown, current and past employers, schools attended, and photos are set to private. This information, combined with first name and location (which are typically required by dating platforms), can be used to find more information online, information users might not want strangers knowing.

When signing up:
When signing up for online dating, users should carefully consider what information they want to include in their profile, such as employer and job title. Users should think to themselves: If I were at a bar, would I tell this information to every single person at the bar, or would I only share this information with people I converse with? The same thinking should be applied when deciding what to include in an online dating profile. Users should also remember that a picture is worth a thousand words, meaning photos can reveal more than one might think. Users should therefore check the pictures they plan on uploading to their profile to avoid revealing their usual hangout spots, or even where they live. Furthermore, users should avoid using pictures that include family and friends, unless they receive permission from them to use pictures including them on dating platforms.

While chatting with potential suitors:
Users chatting with potential dates should continue to avoid revealing too much information before meeting IRL (in real life), because one can never be sure who is really behind an online profile. Users should never tell strangers their email, the name of their first pet, their mother’s maiden name, or even the city their parents met, as these could all be answers to security questions used by online portals to verify identification in case of forgotten passwords, and could be used to hack accounts. Users should wait to add people as friends on social media, until they have met in person, and should also avoid clicking on links, especially to download an application sent by people they don’t know yet. Two years ago, Avast discovered spyware being spread via a seemingly innocent link to download the messaging app, Kik. Cybercriminals disguised themselves as attractive women using fake profiles, chatting men and encouraging them to move the conversation to Kik.

When arranging a F2F (face-to-face) meeting:
When choosing a location and first date activity, users should choose a public place, and meet their date directly at the selected location. Users should also tell a friend or family member about the date, and also consider sharing their live location via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger with that person, so they can keep an eye on their location until the date is over.

While on the date
While on a date, people should remember what their parents most likely told them when they were a child: never get into a car with a stranger, and should also break off the date if they feel uncomfortable.

Online dating should be enjoyable and fun. These simple precautions can help protect love seekers, both online and offline.