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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

SMART Youth Answers: From Stranger Danger to Catfishing - How You Can be Safe When Meeting Someone from the Internet

Ten years ago, you would probably be laughed at or called desperate if you told your family and friends that you met your significant other on the internet. Nowadays (whether it’s from a dating website like OKCupid and Tinder, or from other social media sites like Facebook and Instagram), so many people are meeting each other on-line. This can range from buying a couch from someone to finding the love of your life online. Although this trend is becoming more socially acceptable and common, the cautions and dangers of the internet still exist. Part of the reason is because you never actually know who’s behind the other computer screen. They may not be who they say they are, which can range from just a white lie to actual physical harm and danger. So -- how can you meet someone IRL (In Real Life) that you’ve made a connection with online while staying safe? Here are a few important tips:

Do a little research!
No, you don’t have to do a full background check on the person! But if you have some basic information about the person, do a quick Google search. Check to see if they have a Facebook or a Linkedin account and check the details of their profile. Google Image search their picture and see what comes up. Even simply finding out if the area code for their phone number matches up with what they’ve told you (if they grew up in Boston, but now live in NYC, they would most likely have a Boston or NYC area code) can give you a little reassurance that the person you’re meeting is who they say they are. Also remember that they may be doing a little research on you as well, so be aware of how you represent yourself on social media!

Have a Skype date first!
If you have access to a computer with a webcam, this can be a great first way to meet the person without actually meeting the person. You won’t necessarily be able to tell if they are trustworthy or safe, but at least you’ll know if the person on the webcam matches the person in the pictures! Plus, it keeps you physically safe because you’re meeting virtually and not in person. Just make sure you’re not in a place where they can identify where you live or go to school!

Meet in a well-known open and public space!
When you set up your meeting spot with this person, suggest open and public spaces like parks, restaurants, bars (for those of you that are 21+ and always keep it to moderate drinking! )…anywhere where there are many people and good lighting. Avoid meeting in places that you’re unfamiliar with, like someone’s house or a place in a city or town you’ve never been to. If you don’t follow this tip, then you should especially follow the next tip on this list!

Tell someone where you’re going and what you’re doing!
Letting someone you trust know that you’re meeting up with someone from the internet is very valuable for many reasons. If something bad happens to you (hopefully not!), at least one person knows where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with. Also setting up an emergency/exit plan with a trusted person is a simple way to have your loved ones keep in touch with you. Plus, if you’re having an awkward or bad date, someone checking in on you can be your exit strategy!

Suggest a group date!
Not only is this a great tip to ease your nerves and make the date more relaxed, but it’s also a great strategy to have someone keep tabs on you because they’re right there with you! If you feel like it would be too awkward to have a group date with someone (or you just want a more intimate date), maybe suggest your friends be in the same location with you, but away from you. This way, your date can feel more private, but someone you trust is nearby to keep an eye on you!

Keep it a little mysterious…
Of course we want you to be open and truthful about yourself when making a connection with somebody, but you don’t need to give away TOO much about yourself. Information like your home address, school address, parents’ names, and other personal information should be kept to yourself. Not only could this information in the wrong hands put you in physical danger, it can also affect your identity. Scammers and thieves only need a few pieces of information (like your birthday, mother’s maiden name, or address) to hack into email addresses, bank accounts, and much more…and identity theft is NO joke!

Meeting someone from online can be a fun and positive experience, but it doesn't have to be unsafe. Following these tips can help protect you from possibly dangerous situations!

Although this was mostly focused on online dating, these tips can be used for anybody new you meet from the internet, such as new friends or buying an item from someone on Craigslist!

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