Safety is a concern when it comes to meeting people over the internet and reputable sites have privacy policies that detail their own practices.
You should read each site’s policy carefully before you join. Most of the major sites also ensure you don’t breach your own privacy by posting identifying details on your online profile.
Sites often won’t post profiles that contain, among other things:
- Personal information (full name, email, telephone, web address)
- Mention of illegal activities, violence or non-consensual acts; discriminatory (racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist) text
- Solicitation or any commercial activity
- Requests for a relationship inappropriate to the area
This means profiles generally contain information about age, hobbies, likes and dislikes, the general area a person lives and a photo.
Correspondence is mostly via site emails that can’t be traced back to the real world. Some sites, such as Lavalife, also point out that if at any time you don’t feel comfortable with someone you’re interacting with you can stop and, if necessary, block them.
However, less scrupulous sites don’t always go to such an effort and you could find yourself on a swingers site when you’re really looking for a relationship.
Generally, it’s not hard to decipher the language — anybody looking for ‘couples’ is probably not looking to settle down but it’s worth being wary when you look at the latest offerings. Internet dating is also starting to offer niche sites. Some are run according to sexual preference (such as Gaydar.com.au); others offer greater levels of personality profiling and compatibility matching (such as US-based eharmony.com); and some are aimed at religious or ethnic groups.
The same safety and monetary rules apply, regardless of the size or orientation of the site. Like any other way of meeting people, internet dating doesn’t come with guarantees. If you’d like to try dating people this way, make sure you stay in the driver's seat: don’t put up any personal information that could identify you, talk a lot online before you meet in person and block any communications that make you uncomfortable.
Tips for safe and successful online dating
- Create a separate email address for online dating.
- Never include personal information such as your real name, workplace, regular email address, work or home address, phone number or birthday, in your profile.
- Profiles with photos receive more responses.
- Tell the truth in your profile — you and your dates will only be disappointed if you’ve lied.
- Be original and try to make your profile stand out from the rest.
- Don’t rush in — spend time getting to know somebody online and ask plenty of questions before you meet them face to face.
- When you meet somebody for the first time, pick a public place, tell a friend where you’re going and keep the first meeting brief and inexpensive, such as grabbing a cup of coffee.
- Don’t let somebody new pick you up or drop you at home.
- If you decide to have further contact with somebody, use a mobile phone number, not a home number.
The ACCC has been investigating online scammers who use dating sites as a feeding ground. And NSW Fair Trading is looking into reports of poor service, a lack of access to refunds and rules on cancellations in the industry.
In 2012, NSW Fair Trading received 72 enquiries and 93 complaints about introduction agencies.
estimates Australians lose millions
every year in online dating and
romance scams that can
easily operate on legitimate
include convincing users
to part with their personal
details or money, which is often
sent overseas and is unrecoverable.
One CHOICE member believes
she stumbled on such a scam when
using RSVP. “I was married for 33 years when my husband died,” says
Alice*. “A friend suggested going on
to dating sites to meet someone. My
instinct told me to be careful so
I set up a fake email address.
“The very first person
who contacted me was a
scammer. I complained to
the site about him, and six
weeks later they told me that
they had removed all of his profiles
from their site. So I moved to
eHarmony, and guess who I
*Not her real name.