Authored by a Symantec employee

 

While Valentine’s Day is for lovers, we bet you didn’t know that there is a holiday for the single folks as well! Singles Awareness Day was created as an alternative to Valentine’s Day, and whether you’re celebrating or commiserating your single status, we’re pretty sure that many of you have crossed paths with an online dating site at some point. Nowadays, online dating is as normal to life as is online shopping. Believe it or not, online dating has been around for 20 years, and as a result, cybercriminals are finding big money in people looking for love. 70% of compromised users are women, and half of those women are over 40, resulting in a combined loss of 15 million dollars.

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We want to help you on your quest for love in the digital age, however there may be many obstacles in your path that you may not be aware of. From choosing the site that best fits you, all the way up to those first dates, we’re here to help you in this handy guide for navigating the Internet of love.

Step 1

Choosing the right site:

The cyber-sea of love can be overwhelming to navigate. It is estimated that there are approximately 5,000 online dating sites worldwide.

The first thing you’ll want to check is if the website is a reputable site. We suggest that you stick to well-known websites and do some research. Conduct Internet searches in order to find out how many members are subscribed, read reviews that may include both good and bad experiences from the site and be sure to examine each site’s privacy policy. This could be a difficult feat, as privacy policies can seem like a lot of legal jargon, so here’s a few key things to look out for:

Does it delete your data after you close your account? Some sites will allow you to either delete or disable your account. Since users sometimes return to online dating, the site may retain your information. Some dating sites make profiles public by default, which means that they can be indexed by search engines.

  • It should be clear about how it shares your personal information with other members.
  • It should be clear about who else gets to access your data, such as third parties.
  • Does it provide the name of a real person, or at least a phone number to contact if you have questions?
  • Does it reveal your photo only to members or also for online advertising? If so, is there an option to opt-out?

Keep in mind; most of these sites will keep heaps of personal information on you. A lot of these sites will have you take quizzes or personality tests to help match you with other like-minded individuals. However, those answers from those tests can be very personal and you want to be sure that your data is being handled properly.

Paid vs. Free?

This really depends on what you are looking for. Paid sites tend to have members that are committed to actually meeting people in real life, because it is a financial investment. Membership to these sites isn’t cheap, so if someone is paying, they are usually more serious about actually finding a relationship.

Free sites tend to have more members, which equals more choices, but it also means there’s a higher chance of interacting with a scammer on a these sites.

Step 2

Creating Your Profile:

Of course, you want to create an enticing and attractive picture of yourself for others to see, but keep a tight grip on what personal information you put out there for everyone to see. For example, it’s ok to say what you do for work, but not to say what company it is.

Create a username that you have not used on any other accounts. Make sure you do not use any aspect of your real name, or any other personally identifiable such as birthdates—even birth years. Your username can be searched, and anything tied to that username can come up easily.

Choosing Photos:

A picture really is worth a thousand words. The photos you post on your profile can actually contain a lot of information about you in the background if you’re not careful. Last year, a user was goofing around in his sister’s room, and took a photo of himself. Within 24 hours, members of that website managed to track down the sister’s identity, social media accounts and more all based on what was in the background. A user can do a reverse image search and easily locate other websites where that photo is posted. In this case—brand new selfies are a-ok! Just be sure to take note of your surroundings before taking them, though.

Step 3

Safe Communicating:

While it may not seem harmful to give out your phone number or personal email address—don’t just yet. While you may have been chatting online awhile with your new crush, they’re still a stranger until you meet in real life. People can put on appearances online that aren’t actually true to their real life.

Use caution about giving away anything that can link you to your identity online. It’s even ok to not give someone your last name until the date is set up.

  • Initially, keep communication to potential sweethearts limited to the dating site itself. A lot of these sites have moderators, and allow you to report anything that seems offensive and even threatening.
  • If you and your new friend decide to move the conversation to email, set up an anonymous, free email account to use for communicating with potential dates with. Most sites offer their own messaging that protects the anonymity of their members; however, people will often move their conversations to email or the telephone as they get more friendly online.
  • When the time comes for a phone call, be cautious and set up a free Google Voice account, which will generate a separate phone number and forward it to your mobile. In the event that things fizzle out, the other person won’t have your real phone number.
  • Beware of Catfishers. Catfishing is when a user assumes the identity of someone else. Online predators to try to trick people into an online romantic relationship using this tactic. If the user’s profile seems too good to be true, it probably is. Do a reverse online image search of their photos, and if they appear in other places, under other names, you may have caught yourself a fish!

Step 4

Meeting in real life:

So, you’ve decided to meet up. While everything may seem to be going along swimmingly with your new crush, it’s still important to continue to exercise caution.

  • Be sure that your first meeting is in a public place where there are other people around that may assist if things start to go south. Plus, your date still won’t have your home address.
  • Use the buddy system. Tell a close friend about the date, where you are going, how long you expect to be there, who the person is, and their phone number. This way, you have backup waiting in the wings, whether it’s to get out of an uncomfortable situation, or the date is just not going well, your friend can help bail you out.
  • If you’re not ready for one on one meeting, some sites organize dating events. These are relatively new, and a super safe way to meet new people in real life, as it is in a group. There are so many great and engaging activities; speed dating, pub quizzes and cookery classes are some of the few offerings.

Beware of Scams:

  • Online dating, while extremely beneficial is not infallible to cybercriminals. In addition to personal safety from online predators such as stalkers and Catfishers, there are also a slew of online scams that are perpetuated through these sites.
  • Scammers can create fake profiles that are run by programs called bots. Their objective is to get you divulge any personal information. It’s actually quite easy to spot a bot, as they have a set of predetermined responses.
  • Be wary of individuals contacting you with a sob story, asking you for money. If you encounter any of these individuals, you should report them to the service you are using and then block them.
  • If you’ve been chatting up a potential sweetheart for a while, and they continually put off meeting in real life, this could be a red flag.
  • Don’t visit links sent to you by people you haven’t talked to for very long. Scammers will pose as a member and try to get people to click on links, usually leading to porn or webcam sites, and sometimes can even lead to malicious sites that download malware onto your computer.

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