Is online dating safe? Experts share 7 safety tips

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According to a Pew Research Center study, 3 out of every 10 U.S. adults have used an online dating site or app.

While 57% of those people claimed to have had an overall positive experience, others — especially women ages 18 to 34 — have reported troublesome interactions. The 2022 Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler has inspired countless stories of questionable if not dangerous behavior on these platforms. According to the research: 

  • 6 in 10 women in that age group had someone continue to contact them after they said they were not interested
  • 57% were sent an unsolicited sexually explicit message or image
  • 19% had someone threaten to physically harm them

That said, the majority of relationships today start online, with tens of millions of happy couples finding love, marriage, friends with benefits, fun dates and any other kind of partnership with a swipe right —including on platonic friendship apps.

While there are certainly risks to online dating, fortunately, there are steps you can take to date online safely, including choosing the right dating platform. 

eharmony is our No. 1 choice for safe online dating because of its state-of-the-art ID verification and video dating software that allows you to virtually vet your potential matches before you meet up in person. Use code WSM25 to get 25% off an eharmony membership now >>

Online dating safety tip #1: Choose the right dating platform

Collette Gee, a Los Angeles relationship specialist and author, says the best dating apps are ones that protect users and provide the best experience based on what the user is looking for. 

“In my opinion, eharmony is one of the best dating apps for anyone looking to find real love and to do so safely,” Gee says. “eharmony provides a safe user experience, while some dating apps and sites aim to protect the company more so than the user.”

She advises people not to choose a dating app based on its popularity but rather based on your relationship goals and expectations in a potential match. For example, if you're looking for someone who shares your Catholic or spiritual beliefs, consider a dating site that caters to those users. Here is our list of the best dating sites and apps for single parents.

Chicago-based dating coach Kevin Darne echoes that sentiment. He recommends putting yourself in your ideal partner’s shoes and figuring out which online dating app that person would use.

“In order to meet the kind of people you want to meet, you have to run in their same circles,” says Darne, who wrote a book about safe and successful online dating. “Is a doctor likely to be on a free dating app? Probably not.”

Here’s a list of some of the top dating apps and their current safety features: 

eharmony– Extensive questionnaire deters most people from creating fake accounts
– SMS Verified designation given to profiles that confirm their phone numbers
– Closes accounts if they find out the member is married or provided false information
– Video dating feature allows you to meet potential dates virtually before you decide to meet in person
– Prohibits registered sex offenders from joining or anyone who has been convicted or pleaded no contest to a felony, violent, or sexual crime
Match– Verified status given to profiles connected to social media accounts
– Prohibits registered sex offenders from joining or anyone who has been convicted or pleaded no contest to a felony, violent, or sexual crime
Elite Singles– SSL-encryptedSLL-encrypted site; each member is verified by a human
Zoosk– Profiles created from social media accounts, so it’s harder to create a fake profile
– Profile verification with identity via a photo, phone number, or with your personal Twitter account
Tinder– Panic button to use on dates
– Photo verification
– Offensive messages feature
Bumble– Women initiate conversations
– Option to verify profile

Check out other online dating apps and sites:

Plenty of FishCatholic dating sitesOkCupid
SingleParentMeetChristian dating appsMatchmaker sites
Adult Friend FinderSpiritual dating sitesIt's Just Lunch
Christian Mingle

Online dating safety tip #2: Understand the risks

To understand how to date online safely, you have to know the potential risks. Here are some of the top safety concerns today’s online daters should keep in mind:

  • Fake accounts and catfishing – Some users will gain your trust/affection with no intention of ever meeting you, only to ask for financial assistance or explicit photos. 
  • Scammers and cyber attacks – Other users try to gain access to your personal information to potentially steal your identity or blackmail you with any private information or photos you share. 
  • Sexual and violent offenders – While there are no official stats on the number of online dates that led to stalking or sexual or violent crimes, this risk does exist, so it’s important to do your homework about anyone you’re planning to meet. 

The following online dating safety tips will help you protect yourself from these and other potential risks:

Online dating safety tip #3: Keep your information private

Gee says never to tell someone you met through a dating app where you live until you’ve gone on several dates and built trust. Your phone number can also be used to find out where you live.

“At one time, it was proper to allow a suitor to pick you up and drop you off at your home, but it is no longer safe,” she says. 

Liam Barnett, a dating and relationship coach in Alaska and founder of the site Dating Zest, says people tend to allow themselves to be more vulnerable online, which makes them susceptible to being scammed. 

“That person is not standing in front of you, and that’s what boosts your energy and confidence to share,” he says. 

Instead of giving out your phone number, communicate on your chosen dating platform or use a third-party service that disguises your real phone number. Some good options are: 

  • Google Voice
  • Burner
  • Hushed
  • Sideline
  • Flyp
  • 2ndLine

Karolina Bartnik, a dating and relationship expert based in London, says you shouldn’t trust anyone who pressures you to give out your phone number, social media handles or other personal information.

“If a guy is serious about you, he will wait and be willing to work to win your trust,” she says.

Online dating safety tip #4: Do your homework

Most dating apps do not conduct formal background checks, though several top apps like eharmony are testing their inclusion in the future. 

So what can you do now to date online safely?

There are several ways to learn information about someone before you meet in person (especially if you’re meeting for a hookup).

If you know someone’s last name, you might be able to find their social media profiles and look through any information they’ve made public. 

“Social media provides a lot of information about a person,” Bartnik says. “Seeing who they follow, who their friends are, etc., can give you a good insight into who this person really is.”

Google search results can also turn up information about criminal convictions or other potential red flags

If you suspect the person you’re talking to is using a fake photo, you can download and run it through Google’s reverse image search. This will show if the image was pulled from a website or another person’s social media account. 

2. Video or voice call first.

Some dating apps, like eharmony, allow you to video call with your matches before you meet up in person. 

But you can also use third-party video calling services like Zoom or Skype to get to know your dates. Just make sure the phone number listed on your account is one you’ve disguised. 

Bartnik says it’s much harder to pretend to be someone else in a video than it is over text. 

“Having this kind of contact before meeting in person will let you avoid some major disappointments or even potential danger,” she says.

3. Conduct a background check. 

If you really want to be thorough before you meet someone in person, you can run a background check through TruthFinder >>

Online dating safety tip #5: Pick a safe date location

Choosing a safe public location for your date and letting someone know where you’ll be can protect you from a dangerous situation. 

Gee adds that you shouldn’t go somewhere too close to home or somewhere you regularly visit. 

Tell a close friend or family member where you’ll be and who you’ll be with, and plan to check in with them by a certain time to let them know you’re safe. If you don’t call or text by that time, have them call you. 

Also, end the date at the venue and do not allow your date to follow you to your car.

Darne says daytime dates are typically safer, plus they allow people to dress casually and be more relaxed.

“Daytime dating activities tend to be less alcohol fueled and generally conclude long before bedtime, which eliminates the pressure of hooking up,” he says.   

Online dating safety tip #6: Look out for red flags

If you want to date safely online, keep an eye out for these and other red flags that should pique your concern that the person you are talking to is a scammer:  

1. Scammers aren’t interested in meeting in person.

“Real users will want to take things further and meet you in real life or at least a video call,” Bartnik says.

Otherwise, the person is really only looking to take advantage of you in some way — or is just emotionally unavailable.

2. They ask you for explicit photos or personal information.

“Don’t be overwhelmed and act without thinking if your date showers you with tons of compliments during the first conversation,” Barnett says. “If he or she is overly romantic and uses too many compliments when you have spoken just a few times, there is another reason behind those compliments.”

3. Their pictures look too good to be true.

“If you match with someone who looks like a model but doesn’t share much personal info in their profile, watch out. Fake accounts often use photos of professional models as profile pictures,” Bartnik says.

4. They know things about you that you haven’t shared.

“Notice if the person is asking you about things you have posted on your social media,” Barnett says.

5. They develop feelings too quickly.

“Love bombing is when someone tells you they love you and want to marry you before they even know you,” says Michelle Baxo, a women's love and mindset coach and founder of Power Love Project.

The risks of dating a love bomber range from being involved with someone who will break your heart, to being a cheater, to someone who is looking to manipulate you into dangerous situations.

Looking for something casual? 8 things to know

6. They start asking you for favors. 

“Asking you for favors before you've met or very early on — this is a strategy to test your willingness to give them things,” Baxo says.

This can include asking you to leave reviews for their business online, access to your financial information or other financial favors.

7. They tell you what you want to hear.

If someone agrees with everything you say or appears to have an overwhelming amount in common with you, consider taking a step back. 

“This is a strategy to make you feel connected and understood,” Baxo says. “While it is possible this person is just what you need, be aware of the potential for psychological trickery.”

Baxo says that since the online dating process leaves a lot to the imagination at first, the human brain often jumps in to fill in the gaps, which can leave you making very dangerous assumptions about the person's character.  

Baxo's theory was proven in two studies published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships studied partners in long distance vs. geographically close relationships. Despite limited interaction, the long-distance partners showed evidence of greater stability, in part because of romantic idealization. However, the long-distance partners were more likely to break up upon moving to the same location. 

Online dating safety tip #7: Trust your instincts

After she was personally stalked by a sexual predator, Baxo urges women to err on the side of caution when it comes to safely dating online and to follow their instincts.

“The detectives on the case enlightened me that often women who are attacked had a gut feeling that they were unsafe but didn't listen,” she says. 

Her advice?  

“Block someone as soon as you feel unsafe  — physically or emotionally.”  

FAQs about online dating safety

What is the safest dating app?

The experts I talked to overwhelmingly listed eharmony as their top choice for the safest online dating app. 

This is why eharmony is our top choice for dating safely online: 

  • Lengthy quiz to weed out daters who aren’t serious about meeting someone
  • All profiles are verified as real — and not cheaters or married 
  • Algorithmic matching with the goal of long-term, meaningful partnership and marriage
  • Video dating feature
  • A- Better Business Bureau rating
  • 3 months free if you aren't happy with your matches!

Get 25% off eharmony membership with code WSM25 now >>

How do you stay safe online dating?

There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself online, including:

  • Choose a reputable online dating platformKeep your personal information private
  • Conduct a background check or internet search before you meet up
  • Choose a safe date location — somewhere public that you don’t visit frequently
  • Tell a trusted friend where you’ll be on your dates
  • Pay attention to red flags
  • Follow your instincts (if it seems too good to be true, it probably is)

What are the risks of online dating?

The main risks in online dating stem from the fact that you’re interacting with complete strangers — and personal information can be shared digitally, quickly. If you don’t take the proper precautions, this can leave you vulnerable to a number of frustrating or even dangerous situations, like: 

  • Catfishing
  • Financial scams
  • Identity theft
  • Stalking
  • Sexual assault
  • Violence 

“Our intuition is often our best protection when it comes to scams and exploitation,” Bartnik says. “When something feels off, don’t ignore it.”


How can you tell a scammer when online dating?

Scammers are to interested in meeting in real life, will ask for suspicious personal details like your address or bank info, ask for favors and are way, way too good-looking in their profile pic to be the real deal.

How can you tell if an online romance is real?

If someone you meet online is truly interested in you romantically, they will take their time getting to know you, want to meet in-person shortly after connecting yet not pressure you beyond your boundaries. A truly interested date will not ask for favors — financial or otherwise — or otherwise make you feel weird. Also, an online romance is real if you, are interested!

How can you tell a scammer when online dating?

Scammers are to interested in meeting in real life, will ask for suspicious personal details like your address or bank info, ask for favors and are way, way too good-looking in their profile pic to be the real deal.

How can you tell if an online romance is real?

If someone you meet online is truly interested in you romantically, they will take their time getting to know you, want to meet in-person shortly after connecting yet not pressure you beyond your boundaries. A truly interested date will not ask for favors — financial or otherwise — or otherwise make you feel weird. Also, an online romance is real if you, are interested!

Leighann Bacher is a writer/editor based in Pittsburgh, Pa. She received her degree in journalism from Kent State University and has since worked for major metropolitan newspapers, marketing firms and city magazines. Leighann was named one of Pittsburgh Magazine's '40 Under 40 Honorees' for spearheading a social media campaign to connect people with COVID-19 vaccines and resources. Her greatest joy is spending time with her two kids and dabbling in her creative passions of photography, dance and art.

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