In my experience, this craziness is not that far-fetched from reality. So how can one keep oneself safe within the craziness that really does exist in internet dating? There’s the practical and abundant advice that one can find on many other sites about making sure you drive yourself, meeting in a public place, not giving out your real name or phone number until you know the person, and making sure a friend knows where you are and checks on you during a date. In my opinion, though, one of the first and most important things you should do is listen to your gut. If something feels “off,” then it probably is.
Regardless of whether something feels off or not, it’s a practical thing to check out someone on the internet before you go on a date with them. It may not be romantic, but it’s a matter of safety in some cases. The first thing you can do with any profile is to do a Google image search or TinEye search on the person’s photos. I find that GIS is usually more successful than TinEye, though TinEye does occasionally show some things that GIS does not. By installing the free plugins for these sites, all it takes is a right mouse click (with a PC-- I have no idea about Macs) to find any other recent copies of that photo on the web. This often leads to business pages, Facebook profiles, Meetup profiles, and more. Once you have a person’s name or preferred user ID, you can find out much more about them through a Google search on those specific details.
So is there really a point to doing that? My experience says yes. At one point when I was on a dating site, a local guy indicated that he was interested in me. I checked out his profile since we were a similar age and had a few common interests, but something felt wrong about his profile, like part of his past was missing. So I did a GIS on his profile photo. It led me straight to this guy’s Facebook page. As I read through all of his public posts there (including information about a previous relationship of his), my gut kept screaming that something was wrong. He was a part-owner a business that was one that I don’t personally support, and so I was wondering if I was just being judgmental based on that.
Armed with his name, I then did a Google search on that. The first thing that popped up? His sex offender record. The person in the pictures was definitely the same—no chance of mistaken identity. Suddenly all those gut feelings made sense. I realize that there are occasions when an innocent person gets convicted for a he said-she said date rape scenario, but I believe that’s the exception to the rule. I decided it was time to hide this guy’s profile on the dating website.
While the greater Austin area has almost two million residents, it still has an amazingly small town feel at times. I swear that everyone in Austin has only two degrees of separation between them. As a result, this sex offender went to the same high school as one of my closer friends which I discovered when I was decompressing with her about it. Not only was she able to give me the details on his sex offender charges, she was able to list other alleged offenses of his that only made the picture worse. He was definitely not the victim of a one time he said-she said situation.
Through this process, I learned that Facebook technically does not allow registered sex offenders to use its site, but someone has to report them first before they are kicked off. This policy also presumes sex offenders are using their real name. Some of the dating sites online screen for sex offenders; others do not. Armed with the confirmation from my friend, I reported this offender to that particular dating site that he was on, and to their credit, they immediately removed his profile. Of course, a few days later he had used a different email address but the same picture to set up a new profile.
Your intuition can be one of your best defenses in protecting yourself. The dating world is a scary enough place, but using the internet to help you can be a wise idea. If your gut tells you something is wrong, then no matter how desperate you are feeling to go on a date, listen to that gut feeling and keep yourself safe.
© 2015 Green Heart Guidance