Predator: Mike, online dating predator, Los Angeles County Correctional Facility
Discussion: “Dating apps and their websites are great to get personal information, especially the free sites. Anyone can access someone’s photo from one of their ads. Capture an image, do a Google image reverse search, and I know a lot about you,” said Mike, who’s serving time for bilking a woman he met through an online dating site out of $25,000.
Mike’s victim got off lucky. That hot looking online match could be your potential soul mate…or the next Jack the Ripper. Consider Ingrid Lyne, a divorced mother of three. She was dismembered with a pruning saw and stuffed in a recycling bin by a guy she met online.
Predator offers seven steps to keep you and your family safe while making the digital love connection.
1. Vet the Online Dating App or Website Itself First
Look before you make the digital lover’s leap.
Do check to see if the site or app posts a physical address as sell as a phone number of contact. Research reviews on Google to see what people say about the service.
Do check out the app or site’s privacy statement. Does it clearly define how your personal information will be shared? Make sure it’s not visible or shared with third parties. Read the Terms & Conditions. Yeah, the stuff you skip over all the time.
Do consider the value of free versus premium (paid) services. Paid sites tend to help weed out predators who commit online fraud. They require more detailed information, like a credit card for payment. Many unpaid sites only require an email or phone number, which can be faked.
Tinder, which offers free and premium versions, connects with your Facebook profile. To get the most up-to-date version, users are required to supply personal information about current and former employers, as well as political and religious affiliations – through Facebook! That’s a lot of information to disclose.
Don’t think sites doing background checks are safe. Laws vary from state to state so you won’t have a clear understanding of what kind of check was done.
2. Selective sharing when signing up
Do a little prep work to keep yourself, your loved ones, your identity, your data and your money safe.
Do use a low-key username. Avoid one with sexual connotations, or loaded or hidden meanings. Never use any part of your real name or initials in your username or public profile.
Do check privacy settings on the service to guard personal details.
- Review your entire profile and account settings to avoid giving out unnecessary information. Once someone has your username on a dating app, they can search to locate you on the dating website where lots more information is available. Your whole profile can be exposed along with images loaded into the profile.
- Remember that all information can be public, depending on the service and your privacy settings.
- Update all your social media privacy settings. Apps like Instagram and Foursquare will post your location.
Do be careful with the photos you upload. Remember Mike’s comment about Google image reverse search? If you use photos that are easily accessible on the Internet, someone may be able to identify you by name. From there, they can find out a lot more, like where you live. It’s a real pain, but try to use photos that aren’t available on any of your other social media platforms.
Never, ever include photos of your children and don’t give out information on children to potential dates.
Do start broad with information. If you live in Miami, Florida, there’s no reason to disclose the actual town. Start by saying you live in southern Florida. Start broad in your descriptions. You can be more specific later on if you believe a person is trustworthy.
Don’t answer the income question on the profile. What, you like fraudsters? Same thing goes for your Facebook profile. Don’t share it. Too much information usually is given away there. Never put your phone number or full name on your profile.
3. Be Anonymous for a While
Most apps or sites allow members to communicate without sharing email addresses, phone numbers or other identifying information.
Do use the service’s own secure messaging system to weed out undesirables.
Do use another name instead of your first name in the From line of any emails. If you must, only use your first name.
Do take your time, observe and ask questions. At the same time, share as little of your personal information as possible.
- If you give someone your landline home phone number and full name, they can find out who you are and where you live.
- With just your home phone number, they can figure out how much you earn, the value of your house and your address.
- With just your name, they can find out where you work, your occupation and your phone number.
Don’t share your bank account, credit card number or your Social Security number. (But if you feel compelled, please call Mike.)
Don’t accept gifts sent to your home. It’s great if someone wants to send presents, but arrange for a pick up in a neutral place for flowers, or get a P.O. box for letters and gifts. Tread carefully. A person might feel you’ve committed to them and may be reluctant to let go if you’ve accepted gifts.
Don’t share identifying information about friends and family, like last names or home locations. Again, this can help track you down!
4. Conduct Your Own Research
Once you make connections with a few date-worthy people, do your research before taking the next step.
Do your own Google reverse image search with his or her profile photos. Do ask for a recent photo. That way you can make sure it’s a real person and not a stock photo. You might find out some other interesting information.
Do Google the person’s name. Check out all the person’s social media accounts. Yep, that means you have to have a LAST name as well as a first.
One true story about the really, really nice guy/gal who goes to church syndrome. Just because the person doesn’t look like Freddy Krueger doesn’t mean he’s okay. One woman thought this guy was great until I did a Google search. Immediately, up popped several photos of Mr. Dreamboat wearing a not too flattering shade of orange. State and federal prison.
Do check out prior criminal convictions. Some courthouses allow free searches. Any criminal convictions, DUIs or even a history of speeding? If Mike’s victim had done this, she would have seen he had prior convictions for fraud and identity theft. Hmmm. Sound like someone you’d loan money to?
Ingrid Lyne’s killer also had a criminal record. In 2006, his parents petitioned for a restraining order against him. They said he threatened his mother by telling her to watch the movie Hannibal, about a cannibalistic serial killer, and told her to “beware.” He was also convicted of aggravated robbery in another state.
Don’t let yourself get too hooked before you meet in person. It’s a balancing act. Go slow but not too slow. Usually exchange five or so messages and talk on the phone at least once to get a feel for their personality. Get to know the person before disclosing personal information or meeting in person. But don’t exert too much energy on one person at this stage.
5. Trust Your Gut
Use common sense and don’t ignore misgivings.
WOMEN: Be wary of men who are extremely sexual or forward immediately. It’s okay to say no and to not agree to everything the person suggests.
Do ask questions to verify what the person says matches their online profile. Look for inconsistencies in their history and stories.
Do look for red flags. Some people are pretty good at hiding their real agendas. Ingrid Lyne dated her killer for six to eight weeks. Initially, people are on their best behavior. Look for red flags in early communications that could signal someone who is controlling or angers easily. Move on.
Do make note of someone who avoids answering directly to questions, is demeaning, makes disrespectful comments about you or others, supplies inconsistent information about him or herself, comes on too strong, pushes to meet in person too quickly, or conversely, avoids in-person or phone contact.
Do be on the lookout for two-timers. Some married people fish on dating services. One study found that as many as 30% of singles aren’t really single.
6. Do a thorough pre-date prep
Do ask for a copy of the driver’s license.
Do get a photo as well as full name, phone number, meeting location and (ideally) home address to share with at least two friends or family. Arrange for a time to call to check-in during the date.
Do let the date know you’ve shared your plans with others. One friend loves telling her dates she has shared his information with her friend who is the wife of a SEAL.
Do think through potential scenarios. Imagine situations that could occur on the date.
- How would you react to keep safe?
- How would you summons help?
- How might you defend yourself?
- How would you escape?
7. Steps for Actual Date Safety
Do carefully consider location. Meet in a public place. First dates, or even second or later dates are best conducted where you can yell for help and get a quick response rather than in your home. You may even want to go out with a group of people or a double date.
Do take your own transportation to the location. Even if it’s a taxi or Uber, you can beat a hasty retreat. And it keeps the person from knowing your home address.
Do bring your wallet or pocketbook and pay in cash if you agree to split the bill. Avoid using a credit card as it leaves a paper trail to your home or work location.
Do let your date know nicely you’ll be calling someone to let them know you’re okay.
Do enable an app like Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager on your phone to allow your location to be tracked during the date. Let your friend or family know you can be found with this app. You can turn it off after.
Do come armed with self-defense knowledge and the willingness to use it if necessary. Yelling and running should be your first reaction. But self-defense and escape knowledge comes in handy, as do pepper spray or a ballpoint pen to stab the eyes. A bad date doesn’t have to end badly for you if the person is a psycho.
Not every Hannibal Lecter shows his hand, er teeth, before you meet, or even on the first date. You know the old saying, “Too good to be true…” Yep, that’s another way to describe a narcissist. If someone fulfills your every wish, watch out. Those charming gift-givers can be real sociopaths.
Remember, you’ll have to throw a few fish back before you find the right one.
More to Follow!