Men and women entering the dating scene with the help of the Internet are well-served to spare a thought toward safety, Brittney Schrick, assistant professor and family life specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said in a news release.


“The Internet and social media have changed the face of dating forever,” Schrick said in a recent Family Life Fridays blog post. “Online dating services, hookup apps, texting, Facebook, SnapChat, and other platforms have simultaneously opened new avenues for finding a potential partner and created new challenges and safety concerns.”


Schrick, who has written a series of articles for the Division of Agriculture’s Family and Consumer Science program over the past several months, said although many of the tips she recommends were aimed at younger singles who are perhaps dating for the first time with little to no “adult supervision,” the advice is applicable to singles of any age engaged in online dating.


“I thought talking about dating is something that we tend to think of with teenagers and young adults, but can apply across the lifespan,” Schrick said.


• Schrick encourages people to consider their goals as a first step to dating.


“I think we should resist the assumption that you should be ‘looking for your soul mate,’ because not everyone is looking for that when they’re dating,” she said. “But just because you’re not looking for that doesn’t mean a common-sense approach to safety doesn’t apply — these things are important, regardless of your goal.”


• Schrick said when chatting with a potential date online or through a dating app, users should be cautious about oversharing information, or sending intimate photos.


“People should follow their gut if they feel nervous about a person, or something a person’s asking them to do or not to do,” she said. “Specifically, if a new relationship or contact seems to escalate very quickly. If they start asking for pictures, for example.


“While I’m primarily thinking of online relationships, they can also apply to people you know in person. If they start texting you and asking for pictures, and you don’t want to send them, don’t send them. Understand that those pictures will stick around, and possibly outlast their intended purpose.


“People should follow their own values and feelings, and not be pressured into engaging in behavior they’re not comfortable with,” Schrick said.


• Schrick said that dating sites and apps are sometimes used by scammers attempting to use the platform as a vehicle for identity theft.


“In my research, I came across some troubling scams that are run through dating sites, where people are hit up for money, travel funds, visas, whatever it is,” she said. “You can have your identity stolen, or worse, because you’ve given a lot of information really quickly to a total stranger online.”


• Schrick also suggested caution when meeting someone in person for the first time.


“One of the major things is to make sure you’re in a public place,” she said. “Don’t go to their house the first time you meet them, or invite them to your house, no matter how much they might say ‘I’m really uncomfortable in public,’ or even if you feel like you know them well, because you’ve been emailing for weeks and weeks.


“For your own safety, and for theirs, too, meet in a public, neutral location. So not the courtyard at their apartment. Somewhere a friend could easily find you if you felt like you were in danger.”


Schrick’s full blog post can be read at http://www.uaex.edu/health-living/personal-family-well-being/family-life-fridays-blog/posts/Dating.FLF.aspx.


To read more tips about personal and family well-being, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent, or visit www.uaex.edu.


— Ryan McGeeney is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.