Don’t be a stupid cupid: dating safely online

Online Safety Series - Internet datingRecently I helped a friend sift through about 50 suitors courtesy of her online dating profile – dividing them into helpful categories like ‘marriage material’, ‘possible mullet’ and ‘serial killer’. Would-be Romeos posed in pictures with their cars (pass!), their mums (dear me!) and their cats (get me out of here!), all in an effort to woo their Ms Right.

Hilarious as that was, I was amazed at how much personal information my friend (let’s call her Beth*) might reveal while innocently plugging info into her dating profile. With my Internet safety hat on, even just her ‘name’, ‘suburb’ and ‘hobbies’ could allow a potential suitor/creepy stalker to go for a drive around her suburb looking for a red-headed runner answering to “Beth”.  So with Valentine’s Day around the corner, here’s a little advice on keeping your information safe while courting online.

What you reveal can be… revealing
When choosing a dating profile name it’s best if it doesn’t include personally identifiable information about yourself, such as your name, suburb or birth year. While the undistinguishable ‘candygirl2012’ sounds a bit on the vapid side, there definitely exists a middle ground being playing it safe and playing it cool. Likewise, it’s easy and well worth creating a new email address for correspondence on dating sites – one that’s not linked to your Facebook, or worse, your place of employment.

A quick Google search on your first name and company can lead suitors to anything that might be publicly accessible, such as your surname. With your full name, a simple white pages check can uncover your home address. Even just revealing your phone number can allow searches on the reverse look up service – revealing your surname and home address.

While all of this sounds a bit on the paranoid side, it’s easy enough to avoid with a little care and scrutiny for what you put on the table to begin with.

Choose the right site
With so many different sites out there, you can afford to be picky as to the type of service you sign up to. Choose a site that is well known, has a large enough database (there are, after all, plenty of fish in the sea) and has an appropriate privacy policy that will guard your personal details as closely as you do. You’d also do well to select a dating site that offers their own email service. This means that you don’t have to swap details until you know it’s safe to do so.

Trust your instincts
Turn things around – use the web to get sleuthy and research candidates by typing your match’s name into a search engine, finding public information or even using a paid service for a full background report. Never let the rose-tinted glasses of ‘lurve’ trick you into offering financial assistance to someone you’ve met online- regardless of how well their elaborate story checks out. Report anyone who has asked you to hand over cash or valuables, and have a read of ScamWatch to learn from those who have suffered the misfortune of thinking with their heart.

Finally, have fun, be safe and go easy on the cat pictures.

If you’d like to read more on staying safe while online dating, check out the Online Safety Series fact sheet.

*Not her real name, nor does she go running.


  1. Mark says:

    “…use the web to get sleuthy and research candidates by typing your match’s name into a search engine, finding public information or even using a paid service for a full background report. ”
    That is an example of being stalkeresque behaviour and ironically is advocating the kind of behaviour you are attempting to prevent!
    If I found out a woman had been doing that kind of stuff I would not be terribly interested in her. It is indicative a profound lack of trust, cynicism and I would not want to be with such a person.
    Jog on Beth.

  2. Sir Evian says:

    Hmmm.. it has taken me a bit to actually put this here, but I’d like to tell you how this article has actually helped me out in a real-life situation – only last night.
    I always believed it would never happen to me – although I think I also always believed I wouldn’t use these sites too. But, I don’t get out enough & a mate has had some good dates, met some wonderful people & talked me into giving this a go.
    On the 23rd of Jan I was approached thru a popular online service, by someone that I naively thought was fantastic and beautiful. Telling me how much our ideas, beliefs & focus were so similar, and that we would be so good together. Looking back, I should have realized…. this was too good to be true.. But, well, loneliness can drive you to believe (& want) some strange things sometimes. That and stupidly being a tad too trusting I think. Her story seemed believable. She was looking to find someone thru the site, so as to be able to meet when she finished working in the Philippines and came back to Oz.
    So I replied. We exchanged external email addresses. And an amazing email was waiting for me the next day in my inbox with more pictures of her. With a story that was just a little too full of her information. Height – weight – recent history (including a very tragic family story) and movements – oh… and the (as I now know) tell-tale “I’m an Aussie who is working overseas atm”. (Alarm bell). I had done some basic google searches using the information she has provided but was not coming up with anything anywhere, so it seemed legit. She had deleted her profile from the site (because she had found me….)(Another alarm bell)
    We have chatted daily via email ever since. Her feelings got more and more intense. (Another alarm bell) This concerned me just the day before last (that, and my mate was warning me that he didn’t like the way this was going. But also said, at this point in time, it could also be true & I had nothing to lose – no money was being asked for). But there were glaring issues in her emails I should have seen for what they were. Here was a UK/Australian citizen who wrote in almost pigeon English. Almost, but not quite, and yet it nagged me a little. She had been in the Philippines for a while now & if not for my time spent in Asia, (where, if you spend enough time there, you end up talking in pigeon English, simply because it is easier to communicate this way sans all the fluff we usually embellish our sentences with), I would have seen this for what it was…. (Another alarm bell)
    I queried her intensity & discussed my fears about the veracity of her emails. To which she replied quite strongly, expressing disappointment at my apparent lack of trust in this situation. LOL. Thinking about it now, I really should have seen this – she was already talking about all this stuff for the future, how things would be so fantastic together. Yet we still had not actually ever met. (Another alarm bell).
    Although I hadn’t realized this last night, in her last reply email she had also included some “new-photos” as well as a copy of her passport and a picture of her reading some newspaper (but could not make out any date details). Looking at her passport today –with a pic that is slightly side on and smiling? Photoshop anyone?
    When I read this article yesterday, and looked through the links provided, I found that the nagging feeling of doubt was back, but I still hadn’t found anything that caused me alarm. She had sent me her facebook link – it seemed normal (although it was only about 2-3months old) (Another alarm bell). But the nagging feeling was not going away, no matter how much I wanted to believe otherwise.
    This morning was when it all fell into place. The email I woke to this morning was a love letter of almost sickening proportions, it was flowing and it rhymed. We’ve gone from pigeon English to a flowing, rhyming Love Letter. This really didn’t feel right. I grabbed some of the lines from the text and googled them. –Oh boy, was I in for an awakening with this. If a search engine could explode with the weight of scam info found, this would have left me scattered all over Perth.
    Here was the email I received today:
    “Thanks for the message.Immediately i got your email my feelings turn over on you and it seems you are the right man which i have been searching for to bring back the smile which i use to smile when my dad was still alive,For a good relationship to grow we need to trust each other and be honest with each other to achieve what we want to achieve well i am seeking for man which will be the flesh to my flesh and also the bone to my bone,It’s true I have never seen you and we have never met,Never shaken Hands or even truly hugged and yet!I know for sure you care for me by the kindness that you give.And our keyboards keep us together doesn’t matter where we live.So I am emailing you to put a smile on your face and to let you know in my heart you have a special place.The sun is always shining just above the cloudy haze,as we share friendship across an online maze.We express love and kindness without a face.It comes from deep inside our hearts from a special place. Within our lives we share special dreams, unusual and unique,and it is with our keyboards that we speak.You are a friend of mine from the emails we exchange,I wouldn’t know you on the street and it doesn’t even seem strange.You have brightened my life with the thoughtfulness you show.Your words encourage me more than you could know.As people change and times keep changing too,one thing stays the same ~the way I feel for you.For this friendship we possess we owe a world of gratitude and debt,because we would not know each other if it wasn’t for the net, I will want you to tell me your feelings about me and what you think we can do to achieve our goal.

    Hope to hear from you soon.
    I have since reported her page to Facebook, – although I am playing with it a little now – my reply to that email was quite simply, send me a photo of you today with today’s newspaper. Until this is met, we are not able to be honest and open and trusting with each other. I doubt she will reply.
    This problem is very real, they are out there and they are targeting unsuspecting people who are hoping to find that special someone or even just trying to find new friends.
    Be wary, but of course, don’t give up.
    Someone, Somewhere is waiting to say hello, to be the one that just might want to be friends, or maybe more. Don’t let the fear of stories like this put you off on the idea of “finding love”. But also don’t give out any more info than you are prepared to give to someone in the street, until you are ready to actually meet them for real. Over a coffee or drink or meal somewhere, you can see them and get to know them. Online – from a different country, especially if they start telling you much they are already starting to love you – yet you still haven’t even physically met, is, as I found out, just plain crazy talk.

    • Pat says:

      @Sir Evian,
      So glad I saw this – I got the exact, almost word for word email only the second time we spoke. Online dating is well and truely off my radar – how on earth do you know these people are genuine or not??

  3. John says:

    Hi Rebecca.

    I found your tips to be right on the ball. I am no stalker, but it is usually very easy to ‘pinpoint’ a lot of ladies who put their info onto dating websites.

    My main reason for doing a background search, is to flush out the ‘ladies’ from Ghana and Nigeria, and also a few Russian ones, who make up a vast majority of the dating site ‘prospects.’

    Safety first is the key, not only for females, but for males as well. Scammers abound, so beware.

    Thanks for your article.


  4. Mary says:

    I can only speak from my own experience.

    Several years ago I joined a few dating web sites. I communicated and even met with some men back in Europe, where I come from. Some of them have not been sincere and just “disappeared” after some time of corresponding, with others we formed a friendly relationship.

    For the last six years, I live happily in Australia with the man of my dreams. I had not put personal details in my profile, nor had he, except for our photos. But we started private correspondance and telephone conversations from the very beginning of our cyber relationship and have been genuine about our personalities, addresses, home, work, mobile phone numbers etc. I did not feel a need to check him, nor did he because we felt we are to be together. I was ignorant about the hidden dangers of the dating web sites. A few months after we started corresponding, the time to get a visitor visa, I landed in Australia (he had payed for my tickets without me asking him, because he knew I was unemployed at this stage and had a child to take care of). We did not have doubts about each other and we are happily living together.

    Perhaps precaution is necessary. I would not publish my address. As for the rest, I prefer trusting people knowing that I am taking a risk and it is my choice and responsability…

    I wish good luck to all the people who are looking for their partner on dating sites. I believe that we all have a match and we can be happy. If there is an advice I could give, this is to be very genuine in your profile about your personality, what you can offer to the other, what you need.