THE BLOG

You'll Never Feel Lonely Again If You Give Out Your Details Online - So Don't!

24/10/2014 12:14 BST | Updated 23/12/2014 10:59 GMT

This is 'Get Safe Online Week 2014' 20th - 26th October and, as the name suggests it's designed to help all of us with our online lives and keep us safe. More than half of UK citizens have fallen victim to online crime, according to a recent survey undertaken by them, which polled just over 2,000 UK adults. Half of those who admitted they had been victims of online crime - such as fraud, identify theft, hacking and online abuse - said they felt "very" or "extremely" violated. Get Safe Online revealed the top ten internet-enabled frauds in the past year cost the UK £670m, according to data from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB). However, Get Safe Online said the true economic cost is much greater because a significant number of internet-enabled fraud cases still go unreported.

One area of most concern is in Internet Dating, and these are my top tips to keep safe!

More and more people are signing up to the hundreds of paid and 'free' dating sites to be found on the net. If you're tempted, what you are really getting is a place on the web where you can post your details for strangers to read, and be able to contact you. Anyone can set up a dating website - literally anyone. For most people, online dating is either a positive experience or, at the very least, it's harmless and doesn't cost too much. But you should be aware that the vast majority of dating sites do not screen their members at all. So sex offenders, con artists and organised criminals can join and mix in with genuine people looking for a short cut to love.

So, if you're going to dip a toe into the shark pool that is internet dating, there are some important things you need to consider.

Have a good look at the website.

Does it look professionally put together or is it poorly constructed, with missing text or misaligned sections? If it looks a bit amateurish, it gives you a clue as to the state of the agency itself. If they can't get their act together to format a decent web page, the chances are they won't be running their dating services particularly professionally either. They may not have good safety features and your credit information may not be secure.

Look at the sample profiles before you sign up.

Are the people described in them just a little bit too good-looking, too successful, and too athletic? Many sites (especially new ones that have just started up) pad their membership database with photos of models or random people, 'bait' - to attract new members. They may also keep the membership topped up with people who haven't used the service for months, even years, to make the website look more popular than it actually is. Some of the biggest sites will now tell you when the person you're interested in last logged on. This can at least reassure you that the person you're contacting is still looking and available, even if it cannot guarantee his reply! It can also act as a warning if that gorgeous guy who's promised himself to you is still keeping an eye on the competition in case someone better comes along.

Do any of the profiles have nonsense in them or stuff that doesn't make sense? If they do, it means the dating site hasn't screened them out so probably has no screening service at all. Get out immediately, as you are logged on to a service where anyone can say anything, no matter how offensive or obscene. On the other hand, be cautious when a company says it does offer screening. What that will almost certainly mean is that it runs a series of analytical searches on phrases or words which could have negative connotations and possibly dip-samples every few hundred entries in order to weed out any dodgy daters. And that is all. In the United States, for example, there are companies that offer specialized searches as an accompaniment to an online-dating service. This usually means they have checked that the person's birth certificate tallies with the name given and that they have a reputable credit history. But again, that's all. The bottom line is: the only person who will conduct a reliable assessment of a person's character is you, so treat all potential Romeos you meet on the web with the same caution you would if you were hooking up with a complete stranger.

Does the site have a third-party, anonymous emailing address system?

Reputable sites use double-blind email addresses to safeguard people's privacy and their true email address. Stay using this and don't be tempted to move to your private e-mail address until you're sure of their identity. Check out their photos, ask for more recent ones where you can see them in different environments and most importantly see them clearly.

Does the site have a privacy link?

Look at the bottom of the site's main page. You want a site that states clearly that it does not sell your email address and personal information to anyone. Otherwise, say hello to a deluge of spam and junk mail.

Does the site have a rules or terms-of-use page?

You should only sign up to agencies that disallow racial, hate or overtly sexual material. You should avoid sites where anything goes. They're no fun, believe me, there is some truly weird and hideous stuff out there. It may be boring reading the terms and conditions small print, but the safety of your personal information could depend on it.

ONLINE SCAMMERS

Scammers can sign up to online dating agencies just like anyone else but will create a false profile. They will say they are seeking romance but they are actually seeking your cash. They can take advantage of the anonymity of the internet to create the profile of your perfect match and make any number of promises to attract you and bring your defences down. The sure-fire way to know if you are being scammed is if you are asked for money. It may not happen straight away, but as soon as it does you should be on your guard. Scammers will ask for financial help for a whole variety of reasons. Some of the most common reasons are:

• I want to see you but I don't have enough money to travel.

• I've been robbed/beaten and my wallet stolen.

• I need urgent surgery.

• My mother/father/sister (you get the idea) is seriously ill and can't afford the medical bills.

And on it goes. You need to ask yourself: why does this person claim that you are the only person who can help him when you've only just met? If you do send them money, you have very little chance of ever getting it back. If you are scammed, report it to the dating or chatroom site where you met the person, and most importantly to Action Fraud who can collate all the incidents and hopefully track down the con artists.

Generally they will try and get you off the site and using your e-mail address as soon as they can and then spend a lot of time trying to convince you that they're the love of your life. This exchange can sometimes be maintained by several members of a gang.

It's a sad fact that divorced and bereaved people are most at risk from these scams. Their profiles may well give away tell-tale signs that they're newly alone, and have a comfortable lifestyle, plus their emotional barriers are down having made the decision to seek companionship.

Your first date

DO:-

Check him out first on Facebook any of those social internet websites. It might help you to research his background and find out more about his life and his interests And it may give you a chance to double-check that he is who he claims to be.

Meet in a public place where there are other people around.

Get together for a quick drink or a coffee rather than a whole evening or a meal. There's nothing worse than being stuck with someone for hours when you know on sight that his comb-over is never going to grow on you.

Stay sober. Sorry but in the cold light of day you know it makes sense. How are you going to work out if this man is right for you and trustworthy if you can't string a coherent sentence together?

Listen to your instincts. If there's something odd about him but you just can't put your finger on it, don't think you're being paranoid. If he can only meet you at strange times or talks in hushed tones on the phone or has 'to go all of a sudden', he may not be quite as single as he makes out. If you can never call him at his place of work, maybe that's because he doesn't have one. You have to make a judgement about someone very quickly in a pretty artificial situation, so if something isn't right, move on.

Tell a friend or member of your family that you are meeting someone and let them know where your meeting is taking place and when you expect to be back. You can always get them to ring or text you with an 'escape' message after half an hour -just in case!

Get as many details about the person as you can. You're not being nosy; it's what this kind of dating is all about. When it comes to your personal safety, you have a right to snoop. Find out as much as possible.

DON'T:-

Meet somewhere private or isolated, at his house or at yours. You know next to nothing about this man, and if he doesn't instantly understand the importance of meeting in a public place, then he's either a moron or of dubious intent. Either way, he's not for you.

Lend him money. Beware of someone who mentions how broke he is. Be cautious if he mentions that he's just lost his job or been the victim of some kind of scam. It's quite likely that you soon will be too.

Give him your address. If things are going well, give him your phone number, but be very careful not to let him know where you live until you know him better.

Let him give you a lift or even offer to give him a lift home.

Arrange your own transport to and from the meeting so that there's no uncertainty.

Take him back to your place. If you're sticking to the game plan of first meeting up for a quick coffee or a drink, then it should be easy to make your excuses and leave. If you feel in any way pressured to take him home, alarm bells should start ringing in your head and you need to get away from him. Be especially careful about taking someone back to yours if you live on your own.

Here are some tips for successful and safe online social networking/dating:

Before you s

elect a site, think about what you want from it.

Choose one which offers privacy and security options and restricts access to 'known' or trusted friends. Levels of privacy can

vary from 'none' to 'restricted' to just one known group.

Think very carefully about the implications of your personal information and photos reaching a wider audience before posting. And speak to your 'friends' about what they are posting as well - there's no point in you vetting everything you post only to discover your best mate has published pics of you taking part in a wet T-shirt competition.

Remember that once the information is out there, you leave an 'electronic footprint' for the future. While it may be a laugh to post naked or drunken pictures of yourself on holiday, when you go for that high-powered executive position a few years later, it may come back to haunt you. Some networking site users have already had difficulty in deleting their accounts.

Once you're logged on, be wary of making new friends too quickly. Trust your instincts: if someone is coming on too strong, asking unusual questions or just doesn't feel right, don't get sucked into a relationship, albeit an electronic one, because you feel obliged to. Be firm. Conmen and fraudsters can be very persuasive and will try all sorts of psychological tricks to get you to disclose information. It is best not to accept anyone as a 'friend' on to your entry if you don't already know them.

Finally, remember you'll never feel lonely again if you give out your name, address, phone number and email address -apart from setting yourself up as the perfect identity-fraud victim, you'll probably enjoy cold calls from call centres, spam messages, and junk mail by the ton.

More information at https://www.getsafeonline.org/get-safe-online-week/