How to Use Online Dating Apps Safely

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Over the past several years, the popularity of online dating has skyrocketed compared to where it originally started. In fact, dating websites and apps have given single people a convenient new way to connect with people.

But, with the ease of dating websites and apps comes some new issues, particularly in the form of safety. For instance, interacting with strangers online can put you at risk for identity theft, online harassment, stalking, digital dating abuse, catfishing, and other scams. And, if you do decide to meet up "in real life" (IRL) with someone you met on a dating app, you need to ensure your physical safety as well.

To make navigating the online dating scene a little easier and safer, we have compiled a list of important facts about online dating. We also have put together some tips for selecting the best dating app for you as well as included key tips for staying safe in the online dating world.

Facts About Online Dating Apps

Whether you are new to online dating, or you consider yourself a pro, it helps to have a clear understanding of what dating apps offer including how often they are used, how they are viewed by others, and even how honest people are when building their profiles. Here is everything you need to know about the online dating industry.

Online Dating Is Growing in Popularity

It's estimated there are 44 million people using dating websites and nearly 27 million people using smartphone dating apps in the United States in 2022. The number of people who use dating websites is estimated to increase to 53 million by 2024.

Online Dating Has Lost Some of Its Stigmas

In 2006, the Pew Research Center found that among "internet-using" Americans, 11% reported having gone on a dating site. In 2020, Pew reported that 30% of American adults reported having used a dating site or app.

The number of people in the United States who are willing to try online dating has increased, and overall, people believe that online dating is safer.

Another 2006 study from Pew Research Center reported that 66% of internet users agreed that online dating is unsafe. But more recent research shows that this number decreased; a 2020 study shows that 46% of people felt online dating is unsafe.

People Can Be Dishonest When Using Dating Apps

To some, it probably comes as no surprise that people may lie when using dating websites and apps.

However, one study reported that most incidents of lying on an online dating site were minor when compared to more extreme types of lies like catfishing.

For instance, heterosexual people tended to make minor exaggerations in an attempt to seem more attractive to the opposite sex. Men tended to say they were a few inches taller than they actually were, and women tended to say they were a few pounds lighter than they actually were.

People Use Dating Apps for Different Reasons

While some people think dating apps are only for "hook ups," research shows that the reasons people use dating apps vary. One study found that these reasons tend to fall into six different categories:

This same study found that women tended to use Tinder more for building friendships and self-validation, and men tended to use it more to find sexual and/or romantic partners.

People may use a specific app based on the type of relationship they're looking for. One study notes that people who wanted casual relationships reported using Tinder more often, and those who wanted more serious relationships reported using OkCupid more often.

You might consider using an app that thoughtfully matches you with another person if you're looking for a more serious relationship, versus an app that focuses more on photos. For instance, Plenty of Fish matches people based on behavioral patterns and even provides a compatibility score.

Online Relationships May Last Longer

One study found that marriages where couples had first met online were linked with higher rates of marital satisfaction and lower rates of breaking up compared with marriages that began in more "traditional" ways, like meeting through mutual friends.

Of course, you're not guaranteed to have a longer-lasting relationship if you meet your partner online. But studies like the above do suggest that online dating websites and apps may offer an advantage over meeting someone in person.

With online dating, you can often get a better understanding of what someone is looking for upfront, as opposed to meeting someone in person who doesn't intend on starting a serious relationship.

With dating websites and apps, you can learn about someone's values and interests even before meeting them—this may help you meet people who are more compatible with you.

Online Dating Can Be Dehumanizing

Some people treat online dating like shopping. They swipe through photos looking for the perfect mate, often dismissing someone more quickly than they would have had they first met the person face-to-face.

Consequently, online dating can have a negative effect on self-esteem, whether someone is pursuing people who don't reciprocate or they are not getting as many matches as they hoped they would.

For this reason, it's important to use dating websites and apps mindfully. Make sure you don't spend too much time per day on the app, work on your self-confidence outside of dating, and have patience throughout the process of finding a partner.

Choosing the Best Dating App for You

When it comes to selecting the best online dating app for you, reading reviews and comparing apps can get confusing, especially when the features and options vary widely and are constantly changing as developers modify dating websites and apps.

With more than 7,500 dating apps worldwide, there is a lot to choose from. But, it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Follow these few simple steps to help you find the best app for you.

Review the Safety Features

Online dating can be a risky endeavor because there are so many unknowns. Consequently, you want to be sure that the app you select has some built-in safety features. Ideally, the app will promote its safety guidelines on the sign-up page. But if they do not, or if the safety guidelines are particularly hard to find, you may want to find a different app.

For instance, Tinder has a photo verification feature that offers people the opportunity to take a photo in real-time of themselves, and Tinder matches this photo with the person's profile to prevent catfishing. A blue checkmark appears on the profiles of those who are photo verified.

Check Out the Reporting and Blocking Features

When online dating, you may come across people that you feel are behaving inappropriately or who are just plain toxic. If this happens, you want to be able to report their behavior as well as block them from contacting you.

It is important to know upfront about how the safety features of the dating website or app. If there are no ways to report inappropriate messages or block people from contacting you, you may decide to avoid using a service altogether.

Most dating apps, like Hinge, allow you to report suspicious or inappropriate messages from other people. Hinge, like other dating apps, has a mission statement supporting respect for other people on the app and a "zero-tolerance" policy for discrimination, threats, or harassment.

Dating sites like Match.com and EHarmony also provide tips for using their services, like advising against giving out personal information—such as your social security number or your home address—and to be wary of anyone asking for financial help.

Determine the Level of Visibility the App Provides

When reviewing an app, check to see if you are able to control the visibility of your profile. Ideally, you want an app that allows more options to secure your profile. The fewer options you have, the more exposed your information is on the Internet.

For instance, Hinge offers several options for people to control who they see and who sees them. Just remember, the more options an app provides in this area, the better.

Avoid Sites and Apps That Allow Messaging Prior to Matching

No one likes receiving unwanted photos or creepy messages, which certainly is a possibility within dating apps. As a result, it is best to select an app that requires both people to have an interest before messaging can take place. This way, you can reduce the number of unwanted messages you get and limit it to only the people you want to be communicating with.

Pay Attention to the Geography Settings

Many online dating apps use your location as a way of allowing you to find possible matches. However, make sure the app allows you to have some control over this setting. It is never a good idea to have an app that allows complete strangers to pinpoint where you are or even find your specific neighborhood.

Look for Free Trials and Free Versions

Most dating apps have both a free version and a paid version. As a result, you might not want to pay for a membership before you even know if you like the app or if it will be useful. And having the free version is not going to keep you from meeting new people.

When you are first starting out, it can be a lot more beneficial to try several different apps to see what works rather than purchasing the premium membership before you have even taken it for a test drive. Plus, dating apps can get expensive if you are paying $10 to $25 a month for the service.

Reconsider Apps That Link to Social Media

Most dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge allow people to share data from their social media profiles. This is mostly harmless, but be aware of how much informaton is revealed on your dating profile as a result.

Remember, you do not know the people on the dating app. Giving them access to your social media profile—which could include where you spend time and/or photos of your family—could be risky, especially if you are a single parent.

You also want to keep where you went to school and even your employer private. Making this information available means that even after you have blocked people through the app, they still could still find you and harass you through social media.

Staying Safe While Using Dating Apps

While you are never to blame if someone behaves in a predatory or disrespectful way toward you in the online dating world, there are things you can do to stay safe. Here are some useful safety tips you can put into practice right away to help you be more mindful.

Use a Unique Photo

When developing your dating profile, avoid using the same photo that you have on your social media accounts. If you use the same photo as your Facebook photo or your Instagram page, it is really easy for someone to do a reverse image search with Google. As a result, if you are using the same photo on all your accounts, it is much easier for someone to find you on social media.

Leave Out the Personal Details

When developing your online dating profile, make sure you do not include your last name, contact information, nicknames, or social media handles. You want to keep the personal details to a minimum. After all, if you come across someone you don't trust, you don't want them having too much information about you.

You may even want to tighten the security on your social media accounts to add another layer of protection. For instance, on Facebook, you might adjust your settings so your page is private and is only able to be viewed by "friends," not "friends of friends."

Stay Inside the App

When you are messaging with a potential date, or even after a few dates, it is best to message one another inside the app. Although this might be inconvenient, if something doesn't work out, you do not have to worry about the fact that the person has your cell number.

What's more, staying inside the app provides you with an extra layer of protection. Some messaging systems with dating apps do not allow people to send photos or links, which can really reduce the number of unwanted photos you get.

Set Up a Google Phone Number

Eventually, you will want to talk with someone on the phone, either after you have met or beforehand. But instead of giving out your cell number, consider getting a Google phone number and forwarding it to your phone.

It is pretty easy to set up. Once you log in to Google Voice, you simply choose your area code and select an available number. The instructions on the rest of the set-up process are pretty simple to follow.

Take Precautions When Meeting IRL

Avoid letting someone know exactly where you live. Instead, arrange to meet in a public place and provide your own transportation. You also should let a close friend know where you will be and when you will be home. You want your friends to know as much information as possible should something go wrong.

Once on your date, be sure you stay aware and alert. Do not leave your drink unattended and keep the first few dates short. You may even want to bring a self-defense tool with you such as pepper spray or a high-powered flashlight.

And, if the person you are meeting is making you uncomfortable or scared, enlist the help of a friend in leaving the situation. Remember, you should never feel bad about putting your safety first. Even if you have to do something rude to escape a situation, you need to make sure you are safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do online dating apps work?

    Dating apps can work to connect you with potential partners. Studies show more and more people are meeting their romantic partners online every year. If you are looking to meet your partner online, know that it is very possible.

  • How many people are using online dating apps?

    It's estimated that nearly 27 million people are using smartphone dating apps in the United States.

  • Are there any free online dating apps that are safe?

    There are many free online dating apps that have security features in place designed to protect the people who use them, such as Hinge, Bumble, and Tinder. There are also ways you can ensure your own safety such as not giving out personal information and limiting social media exposure.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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