Meeting people online is fairly common, and often works out just fine for everyone involved. Still, there are risks when you get together in person with someone you’ve met online for the first time. Whether you’re on social media or on a dating app, safeguard yourself and your private information from would-be criminals. If you want to safely meet a person you met online, keep your first few meetings public and brief, and always have an escape route.
- Keep personal information off your profiles. If you want to stay safe online, anonymity is the way to go. Don’t even use your real first and last name, or list where you live or go to school. You don’t want strangers online to know too much about you.
- With some dating apps, you have to enter your real location to get the most out of the app. Keep your location as general as you possibly can and still use the app properly. Be extra cautious who you talk to.
- On some social media platforms, such as Facebook, you can create groups of friends and control who sees what information on your profile. For example, you could have your high school only visible to a group of your friends who went to high school with you, and invisible to everyone else.
- Check your privacy settings. Every social media platform or dating app has privacy settings that are designed to protect you. These settings allow you to control who can see specific information or posts you make.
- If you don’t understand the way the privacy settings work, talk to a friend who can help explain them to you and get things set up the way you want.
- Most social media platforms give you the option to view your profile the way a stranger would, so you can make sure you’re not revealing more information than you want.
- Look into the background of people you meet. Once you’ve started talking to someone regularly, it may be time to do a little online sleuthing before you meet up in person. Even if you don’t have a lot of personal information about them, there are still ways you can determine if they are deceiving you.
- Look carefully at their page. If you have any friends in common, contact those people and ask how they know the person and if they’ve ever met them in real life.
- Copy their photos and do an image search of them to see if they appear elsewhere on the internet. If someone is trying to pretend to be someone else, they may intend to harm you.
- See how far back their page goes, and look at any comments or interactions they have with other friends or followers. You can usually tell by these interactions whether they actually personally know each other.
- Avoid giving away any personal information. In general, you want to avoid telling anyone too much about you until you’ve met them. Get to know them a little better before you tell them your address, your birthday, and your life history.
- This can be a delicate balance. If they are being safe, as you are, they won’t reveal any personal information either. This can make it difficult to look into the person’s background, but try to respect that they have the same privacy concerns you do.
- Take it slow. It can be easy to divulge too much information about yourself too quickly when you’re talking online – especially if you talk to the person frequently. Keep your emotions in check and check yourself regularly to make sure you’re not getting ahead of yourself.
- You don’t want the person to know too much about you until you’ve met them in person at least two or three times. Keep conversations focused on common outside interests, such as music or movies, and avoid talking too much about your own life or your thoughts and feelings.
- Trust your instincts. When you make friends with somebody, it can be tempting to shrug off comments or behaviors that normally would give you pause. Keep in mind that this person is a stranger, and avoid giving them the benefit of the doubt.
- If the person says something that bothers you, mention it directly. Be honest, and don’t allow them to think you’re okay with something when you’re not.
- If you don’t feel comfortable saying something to the person directly about something that’s bothering you, that in and of itself is a red flag that maybe this person isn’t the best friend for you.
EditMeeting in Public
- Choose a place where you’re comfortable. You may not want to meet too close to home if you’re worried about the person knowing where you live. But at the same time, you don’t want to meet someone for the first time in an unfamiliar part of town.
- Often you will feel more comfortable in a place where you’ve been several times, especially if you’re anxious about meeting this person for the first time.
- Ideally, you still want a place that you don’t frequent often. If things don’t work out, you don’t want to risk running into that person again.
- Plan your meeting during the day if at all possible. If the two of you are only available in the evening, choose a place that typically is fairly busy at the time you’re planning to meet.
- Talk before meeting. Before you meet someone in person who you’ve met online, you want to make sure they are who they’ve said they are. The best way to go about this is to have a phone call or live video chat with them.
- If the person isn’t able to video chat with you, ask them to take a selfie holding a sign with particular words on it. This can help assure you that they aren’t pulling photos off the internet or otherwise deceiving you about who they are or what they look like.
- If you and this person have developed a friendship to the point that you want to meet in person, they shouldn’t have any problems doing this. If they refuse or make excuses, it could be a red flag.
- Bring a friend. If you’re really nervous about meeting the person, bring a friend along with you or organize a group date with several friends. If the person legitimately wants to get to know you, they shouldn’t be put out that you want to meet in a group first.
- Especially if you’re meeting the person further away from home, or in an unfamiliar part of town, bring someone along who knows that area.
- Avoid alcohol on your first meeting. For people of drinking age, it’s quite common to meet people at the local bar or pub. The problem is that alcohol can lower your inhibitions and cause you to lose control.
- If you do decide you want a drink, order a single drink with a low alcohol content, such as a light beer. Get a glass of water along with your beer, and sip slowly, alternating between the beer and the water.
- Ask lots of questions. The point of meeting in person is to get to know each other better. Since the person might be more reserved in person than they were online, be prepared to ask questions to get them to open up.
- Referring back to a conversation you had online can help make both of you more comfortable. You’ll be able to link the person in front of you to the conversations you had before.
- For example, you might say “I remember you telling me that Radiohead was your favorite band. Did you hear that they’re playing a concert here in a few months?”
- Keep your first meeting brief. For your initial meet-up, find some place you can sit and talk for a half hour or so, but don’t plan on anything any longer than that. This way, if you find you’re not interested in the person, you don’t have to spend too much time with them.
- A short meeting gives the two of you the opportunity to sniff each other out and figure out if there’s any connection in person as there is online.
- Make a commitment with another friend so you have an easy out if the person tries to convince you to come somewhere else with them. Keep in mind a predatory person might try to lure you to a more private or out-of-the-way location.
- Take personal belongings with you. If you have to excuse yourself at any point, such as to use the restroom, do not leave your purse or cell phone unattended with the person you’re meeting. Treat them as a stranger and don’t give them access to your private information.
- Plan another meeting. If the first meeting went well, plan a second, longer meeting rather than extending the first meeting. This way you’re continuing to take things slowly and you’re remaining in control of the situation.
- Assuming your first meeting lasted 20 or 30 minutes, your second meeting should be a similar duration, maybe a little longer. You can work up to sharing a meal together or engaging in other activities.
EditHandling Sticky Situations
- Go with your gut. Even though things are going well and outwardly the person seems fine, you may have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Don’t ignore that feeling. If you feel like you’re not safe, get out of there as quickly as possible.
- You don’t owe anyone anything. If you feel that you need to leave, just do it – especially if you feel like your personal safety is in jeopardy. Go to the restroom and call a nearby friend to help you.
- You also may be able to talk to someone who works at the place where you met. Explain the situation to them and they may be able to help you.
- Have an escape route. Before you meet up with the person, have several options in mind that will enable you to get out of the situation quickly if anything happens. Rely on your own transportation as much as possible.
- If you have your own car, drive to the meeting and park as close as you can. Don’t go anywhere else where the person could potentially isolate you from your transportation.
- Have a couple of options if you don’t have your own car or are relying on public transportation.
- Get a friend to call or text. Always make sure that several people know exactly where you’re going and when. Arrange for a friend to check in on you during the meeting so you can let them know if things aren’t going well.
- Keep your phone on your person at all times, either with the ringer on or on vibrate so you won’t miss this text or call.
- You also can get a friend to drop by and act as though the two of you just ran into each other. Only try this if both you and your friend are capable of acting through the situation.
- Report threatening or dangerous behavior. If the meeting goes really bad, and the person turns out to be someone dangerous, report them to the local police as well as to the social media platform or dating app where you first connected.
- If you report their behavior to the website or app, you may be able to get them banned.
- You also have the option of blocking them so that they cannot see your profile or contact you again.
- If you are under the age of 18, it probably is best if you don’t meet people in person who you’ve met online. Make sure you have a parent or other trusted adult present if you do end up meeting a person you met online.
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