The recent dramatic confusion around Manti Te’o’s online love life and it’s just as heart wrenching conclusion has left many online daters wondering how to date safely online if such a public figure as Te’o was allegedly duped. It’s tough enough to find love in the real world with all your friends and family trying to hook you up. How does one find that true love by using the great power of the Internet without ending up the joke of the town or in utter depression from all the falsity that might arise?
Though much of what happens online mirrors reality, meeting someone in cyber space is significantly different than meeting someone in person. In the real world, your dating “site” is made up of friends, coworkers, family and acquaintances – people you are already familiar with. Even though a dating network of “real” people doesn’t guarantee a great relationship to come and might even lead to a bad date, having that personal and human connection is critical. Seeing the whites of their eyes might be a cliché but it is a cliché because it remains relevant.
In the real world, you might meet potential dates at parties or bars, and often go out on group or double dates. Meeting online you are in the unfortunate position of not having enough information to determine whether you should trust the information you have. Can you trust that the picture really is of that person, that the person is even real to begin with and that all the person’s information and communications are legitimate? And yet even without that immediate sense we get when looking into the whites of someone’s eyes, we can still find love safely online.
Here are a few tips to make your experience as real as the online world will allow:
- Google, Google, Google – today we all leave digital footprints. Take the information your online friend has given you and ‘Google’ it. The less you find, the more worried you ought to be.
- Watch out for the sad story that starts to develop as an excuse on why he or she cannot meet you in person — one of the more common scams is perpetrated by a lovely “woman” with a gorgeous photo looking for a new love in America. Her story is a sad one: no family to speak of, a big heart, a desire to see the man she meets online. Eventually, this “woman” will ask for money, perhaps to help with a ticket or because she has been detained trying to leave her home country. The man will wire her money and “she” will disappear. This is disheartening, heartbreaking, and all too frequent.
- Treat an online friend like a stranger until you have actually met in person – meet in a public place, preferably a well-lit place that is familiar to you in an area you are comfortable with. While these suggestions strongly apply to women, men would do well to take note as well. Predators and scammers are not limited to males so everyone needs to exercise care.
- Fall in love online slowly – con artists tend to fall in love dramatically and quickly so they can reach their real goals quickly. Just like in the real world, online relationships need to develop gradually over time. So until the first earthly encounter occurs, be cautious.
- Go with your gut – just like in the real world, if your gut tells you something is wrong, believe it and go with it.
Engaging in safe dating online in some ways is no different than dating safely in person. But, because you can’t see the white’s of ‘his’ eyes online, your own eyes and ears must navigate the online world slowly and cautiously.
Much love to you.
Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam is an online safety, security, and privacy expert and CEO of SSP Blue, an online security consultancy. Hemu was the former Chief Security Officer for News Corporation, Fox Interactive Media, and MySpace, and was an executive at Microsoft. He is also a frequent contributor to CNN, HLN, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, CBS, HLNTV.com, and abcnews.com. To sign up for SSP Blue’s Weekly News & Info, please click here, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. See also Hemu’s personal site.