The online dating industry is now bigger than ever. And it really isn't that big of a surprise, given that love--just like food, water, and air--is a basic human need.
According to Statista, the online dating industry bags a revenue of nearly $1.4 billion annually. Most of this is generated in the US, but the UK market is slowly catching up with websites like Plenty of Fish, Friend Finder, and MySingleFriend.com.
From a user's perspective, statistics and platforms don't matter as long as you get to meet wonderful people and feel the thrill of youthful romance. But before you get too excited, you need to review the most important issue when it comes to any online activity - your safety.
A report by the National Crime Agency shows that sexual offences originating from online dating sites have grown six-fold from 2009 to 2014. An optimist would say that this is mainly because online dating websites are on the rise. But upon closer inspection of the leading dating sites in the UK, there are still plenty of user security holes that need to be addressed.
To help maximize your online dating experience without compromising your safety, below are ten tips you need to live by:
1. Isolate Online Dating from Social Media
It's tempting to let an interesting person enter your personal social space. However, you should wait until you've met a few times before you add them on Facebook, LinkedIn, or any other social network.
Think about it - if someone signs up for online dating, it's their job to make their profile as alluring and irresistible as possible. A good rule of thumb is to make your Facebook profile private before being active in online dating sites. At the same time, make it a point to your prospects that your acquaintanceship stays within the dating platform for an indefinite period.
2. Stay Anonymous
As much as possible, you should avoid giving out your last name, address, or phone number to someone you barely know. Rest assured that real users will understand your concern and probably have the same precaution themselves. In case you want to communicate via phone calls or SMS, use a different cellphone number so you can easily deactivate it at any time.
3. Use a Dating-Only Photo
Even though you keep your personal information private, online daters can still look for you online via reverse image search. That's why you should avoid using the same photo for your social media and online dating accounts.
To make doubly sure, run a test search on Google Images after updating your profile. If it leads to your social media account, blog, or anywhere else that reveals your identity, take a new photo and test again.
4. Time It Right
If you see online dating as an opportunity to find something serious, try being active on or before Valentine's Day. A study shows that Tinder--a major online dating app--gets a 7.6% usage spike for two weeks before February 14. By then, the platform also receives an increase of 60% in positive matches, which indicates that more legitimate users take the app for a spin during said period.
5. Keep the Questions Coming
Remember that the ultimate goal of online dating is to get to know someone while overcoming physical barriers. That said, don't be afraid to ask too many questions as long as none of them are too invasive.
To determine if they're being honest with you, consider repeating the same questions using different words from time to time. Find loopholes and inconsistencies in their stories. If something doesn't add up, trust your gut and choose whether to ask them again or simply bail out.
6. Meet at a Public Place
When you finally feel comfortable enough to meet someone face to face, always opt for a public place like a restaurant, park, or mall. A bar is also plausible, but only if you don't plan to meet too late at night. Bear in mind that you're still meeting up with a stranger. If you don't even know what they're like when sober, might as well keep alcohol out of the picture for now.
7. Tell a Friend
To be extra safe, don't forget to inform a friend or family member about your plans. If possible, request them to pick you up or meet with you once the date is over. This makes more sense for women, but even men shouldn't be embarrassed for being safety aware.
Online dating can be an exciting new frontier for today's young adults. However, having safety concerns nudging at the back of your head can singlehandedly ruin the experience - and rightfully so. After all, nothing is more important than your safety physically, emotionally, and digitally.
With the tips above, you should be able to explore the online dating space with peace of mind. Just remember to treat other online daters like strangers until you've successfully met at least once. Good luck and have fun!