Online dating: Dangers & Safety tips
Online dating has become more popular with the rise of the internet and it is believed that 1:5 relationships begin this way as well as 1:6 marriages.
Fast facts on online dating
- About 17% of marriages and 20% of relationships begin online.
- 49 million people have tried online dating,
- + 8,000 dating sites exist in the world
What are the dangers of online dating?
About one in 10 people are using online dating websites to try to scam other people.
One way people try to scam others they meet online is to get money from them. This can be done by building a relationship of trust at first – grooming. Then after a period the scammer invents a crisis that he/she needs money for. The online victims believe the scam and parts with money to help the person in to resolve the crisis. Another way scammers get money is through extortion. The scammer builds a trust relationship, acquires personal information and photos from the victim and then threatens the victim with publication of the information unless extortion money is paid over. In 2011 alone online victims lost $50 million through such scams.
Cat fishing is defined as: Luring someone into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona.
There are 2 kinds of cat-fishing:
A person is pretending to be me – the person stole your photos and or identity and uses this to trick other people. Example: You discover someone entered your details on an adult website to entice prospective clients, when the clients start calling you. The person illegally published your information and sensitive details like your home address on the site, which puts you in danger from predators. The person can be prosecuted for impersonation and jailed. If this happens to you, contact the site immediately to state you were cat-fished. They will close the catfish down.
You have been cat-fished – you believe you were speaking to a person, when in fact, you were speaking to someone else entirely. Example: A lady who is lonely enters her details into a dating website. She is cat-fished by a person who created a false profile and who pretends to match her likes and wants 100%. She discovers the fraud once the person starts blackmailing, bullying or extortion tactics in one or the other way to hurt you.
How to spot a cat- fish:
The following maybe signs that a person is a creep or online predator:
- A person who refuses to Skype, do face-time chats or voice chats.
- A person who’s story changes as time goes along
- A person’s story who sounds to good to be true – it usually is!
- A person who tell you they want to meet, set up the meeting and then cancels at the last moment.
Minimal background checking happens:
The second grave danger that online dating presents is the fact that there is minimal background checking involved when signing up for dating websites. This is especially true for free dating websites (Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, OkCupid, Plenty of Fish).
The Supreme Court decided that Social media use is a constitutional right — even for sex offenders, The justices unanimously ruled that it’s fine for convicted sex offenders to use social media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and LinkedIn, as long as they aren’t breaking the law while doing so. (Jason Silberstein, New York Daily News, Jun 17, 2017)
According to a report from Phactual, 10% of online dating users are sex offenders. Approximately 25% of rapists are currently finding their victims on online dating websites. Over 39,000 verified registered sex offenders have profiles on MySpace. (Those are just the ones who have registered their real names!). Internet Experts agree that millions of sexual predators and perverts are online just watching and waiting for the “right moment”
Example of a case: ‘’A man raped five women after meeting them on dating site Match.com, a court has heard. Jason Lawrance, 50, is also accused of attempting to rape a sixth woman and sexually assaulting a seventh’’. 16 February 2016
Young girls, single moms are usually the unsuspecting victims of common scam as people with bad intentions easily gain trust from them. Every year there are approximately 100 murders, 16 000 abductions and thousands of rapes conducted by online predators.
Lying on one’s online dating profile is extremely common.
These lies could be as innocent as adding one or 2 inches to their height. On the other hand, they could be as dangerous as lying about their relationship status. A shocking 53% of people lie on their online dating profile. There are thousands upon thousands of married men and women that are using online dating websites to cheat on their significant other. If they are not willing to give up their social media profile, ding ding ding, this is a huge red flag!
How to be safe when dating online
What dating services can do to help reduce dangers
The first step that they can take is making the sign-up process more difficult. As it currently stands, all you need is an e-mail address to be able to sign up for a lot of these free dating websites. Facebook.com has taken fake profiles very seriously, and sometimes they require an official form of ID to verify you are who you are. This is the step that dating websites need to take in the future.
Dating sites that require a monthly fee requires more detailed information from anyone signing up, although you still have no guarantee that the information provided is true. It might be safer to make use of paid for sites because of this. (Examples are: Match.com, Zoosk, eHarmony, Chemistry.com, Our Time)
Talk to the person and get their social media information
It is extra important that you get their social media information. More importantly, you should get their Facebook profile. After checking that their Facebook profile is legit, you can then use their real name on their Facebook profile to do the background check.
Fake Facebook accounts usually have extremely low friend counts, photos with no tags in them (or no tags linking to actual Facebook pages) and photos that don’t include family members, friends, or everyday adventures. If every photo looks like it came straight from a modeling portfolio, raise that red flag.
Third-party background checking services – you can make use of 3rd party services (friends, work colleagues, family ) to verify what the person’s information.
Never Pay Money to Anyone!
Never ever be conned to pay money over to someone you met on the internet for any reason whatsoever. Period.
Check the Sex Offender Registry
It is not that up to date in South Africa as elsewhere in the world.
Report or Block Shady Members
Trust your instincts. If someone’s story changes or the person doesn’t want to talk to you by phone or via Skype – block or report the person. If you don’t feel right with what the person is asking from you, don’t hesitate to block the person. Don’t be manipulated into doing things that goes against your values.
Only use Trusted Dating Websites
Paid for sites do better screening than free sites.
How to stay safe when meeting a person you met online
Research them before you offer to meet
Research them online. Speak to them over the phone. If you are considering meeting an online friend in person, hopefully you have already spoken to them over the phone. If not, do it immediately. You can also set up a Skype interview.
Take it slow and trust your instincts
Plan your entire encounter. Drive yourself to and from your date, or take public transportation. When you arrange to meet-up never go alone and be sure to meet-up in a public place. If you are under the age of 18, these are not merely suggestions. You must bring a trusted adult with you if this trusted adult approves of the meet-up. Review the area where you two are meeting. If you are going to meet a stranger, you want to be familiar with the area. Decide up front where you will draw the line. People with soft boarders are more likely to be scammed or taken advantage of. Set realistic expectations. Approach the date like you would any other first date and set your expectations accordingly. Although you might have clicked online and talked hours on end, on a real face-to-face date there might be awkward moments and periods of silence just like with any other date.
“Anyone you meet online is a stranger, and you need to remember that, even if you’re on a second or third date.”
Communicate with a friend/family
Tell people where you are going and with whom. Give your location to someone you trust. Let someone else know where you are, and check back in with that person at the end of the date.
Have an exit strategy
Have a plan in place how and when you will leave. Never go home with them on your first date. If the date is a disaster, don’t be afraid to just get up and leave.
Always keep your wits about you, and if you ever feel uncomfortable you should simply leave. Your safety is of paramount importance.”
Can a person be criminally charged for online grooming and extortion?
Depending on the nature of the acts of cyber bullying the perpetrator maybe criminally charged with the following criminal offences according to a paper, ”Legal responses to cyber bullying and sexting in South Africa” by the CENTRE FOR JUSTICE AND CRIME PREVENTION ¹
Crimen injuria consists of the unlawful, intentional and serious violation of the dignity or privacy of another person. This crime can also be committed by communicating to somebody else a message containing, expressly or implicitly, an invitation to or a suggestion of sexual immorality or impropriety, or by sending indecent photos.
Assault is defined as any unlawful and intentional act or omission:
- which results in another person’s bodily integrity being directly or indirectly impaired, or
which inspires belief or fear in another person that such impairment of his or her bodily integrity is immediately to take place.
- Cyber bullying whereby the perpetrator threatens the victim with personal violence and his conduct inspires fear or a belief in the victim that such personal violence is to take place, may therefore fall within the ambit of the definition of assault.
Criminal defamation is defined as the unlawful and intentional publication of a matter concerning another, which tends to seriously injure his or her reputation. Criminal defamation includes both verbal and written defamation. It is a requirement the defamatory words must have come to the notice of someone other than the victim. If not, the perpetrator can only be charged with crimen injuria. Defamatory remarks in chat rooms, on social networking sites, e-mails, text messages or instant messages to third parties are some of the methods of committing cyber bullying that will fall within the ambit of this criminal offence.
Extortion is committed when a person unlawfully and intentionally obtains some advantage, which may be of either a patrimonial or non-patrimonial nature, from another by subjecting the latter to pressure, which induces him or her to hand over the advantage. With reference to cyber bullying, extortion may be committed where a person intentionally and unlawfully threatens to electronically distribute images about another person unless the victim hand the perpetrator the advantage.
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¹Legal responses to cyber bullying and sexting in South Africa, CENTRE FOR JUSTICE AND CRIME PREVENTION, CJCP Issue Paper, No. 10, August 2011.