Staying safe while online dating

Safety should be your first priority when it comes to online dating. This applies whether you’re looking for a long-term relationship or something more casual.

Maybe you’ve tried apps like Tinder, Bumble or Hinge, or websites like OkCupid, Plenty of Fish or Match.

There are steps you can take from the beginning to protect your safety while also being open and honest.

Nicole Haley is a dating and love coach who helps women across Canada and the world find their ideal partner. She started Nicole Talks Love 15 years ago in order to help clients find fulfilling relationships.

“People are trying to figure out where to find love,” Haley said. “We can kind of think that it’s all online now, like that’s the way the world’s moving. I do think it’s one element to meet people. When you’re using that platform, you have to know how to really benefit from it.”

Haley walked us through her recommendations of curating an online dating profile and how to stay safe on and offline.

Know what to put on your profile—and what not to

The first thing people see about you is your online profile. 

Your bio is as important as the photos you post. Haley suggested asking yourself several questions before writing a bio to check in with yourself about what you’re looking for.

“What’s really important in the overall experience you want to have? Are you looking for a casual relationship? Are you looking for something serious? 

Hayley said to “go a step deeper” after you understand what you want.

“What are the values and needs that are important to you? When you’re online and you’re starting to write your profile, it reflects your values and what you’re looking for. Then you’re writing your profile based on the experiences you want to have.”

Not only does this process help you understand your goals better, but it helps to narrow down potential partners. When you read other people’s bios, are they looking for a relationship too? Or just something more casual? This will help your chances of finding someone with compatible intentions.

Many dating apps have sections where you can include information like your location, hometown, job, and education. You’ll want to list things that give potential matches an idea of who you are. But you might not want to disclose things like the company or branch you work for right away. It’s important to be aware that this information is now accessible to anyone who looks at your profile.

“I say for some of that personal information, less is better in the beginning,” Haley said. “There’s no need to reveal a lot of your identity. It’s about knowing that you are in control. You don’t have to give out any information you’re not comfortable with. It’s really a personal choice of what you think is safe for you.”

Think about if you’d share that information with a stranger in public. If you wouldn’t tell a stranger where you live, then you might not want to publish that on the internet.

Look for red flags and signs of catfishing

It’s important to know about catfishing when entering the world of online dating. Catfishing can be as extreme as someone adopting an entirely fake identity to scam people. Someone could also mislead you into thinking they’re single, when in fact they’re married with children. While a catfish’s intentions are often unclear, their actions are misleading. 

According to Merriam-Webster, to catfish is, “to deceive (someone) by creating a false personal profile online.”

“A catfish is really good at complimenting us,” Haley said. “They’re really good at affirming things. They create a story of the future, like ‘I could see us going kayaking down that river you talk about.’ But what happens with catfishing is we never really meet them.”

Haley said that catfish take our information and build a fantasy world around it. “We attach ourselves to this idealism, and before you know it, we’re bonding, we’re attached, and we’re missing red flags.”

A big red flag is avoiding phone calls and video chats. A catfish will also avoid meeting you in person, using excuses like work events or being out of town.

“These are good indicators to have your spider senses go off,” Haley said.

Stay safe when meeting in-person

Photo by Hitesh Dewasi

For most people, the point of online dating is to eventually meet in-person and kindle a real-life relationship. That can be exciting, but it can also be very nerve-wracking. You’re meeting with a stranger, even if you’ve shared numerous texts and phone calls.

There are several important things to keep in mind when meeting someone.

Tell a friend or family member where you’re going and who you’re meeting with. Send them a screenshot of the person’s dating profile. Let your contact know when you expect to be back home. Also let them know what time they should contact you if you’re not home yet.

Planning for a way home from a date is important. If you’ll be drinking, consider having a transit pass ready or a ridesharing app downloaded on your phone. Haley recommended not accepting a ride from someone on the first date. Arrange your own transportation to and from the date.

“Make sure you get there yourself,” Haley said. “Don’t rely on them to come pick you up. That’s too much information to know exactly where you live.”

Meet in a public space. If your date is insistent that you go to their home, that should be a red flag. Suggest another location instead. Haley recommends meeting somewhere you’re familiar with.

“It’s about finding a place where you feel really comfortable, so you know where some of the exits are. If you’re in a restaurant, maybe in a new part of town, you want to know your way around,” said Haley.

If you feel uncomfortable during the date at any time, don’t be afraid to leave. You do not owe anything to your date. Trust your instincts and do what feels comfortable to you. 

Don’t hesitate to call a friend or family member to help you get out of a bad date. Your safety is the number one priority.


For more safe dating information:

RAINN’s online dating safety guide

Sudbury Women’s Centre safe dates program

If you are in crisis:

Assaulted Women’s Ontario Helpline: 1-866-863-0511

Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010

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