Safe digital dating: Ways to stay protected

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - In the world of modern love, finding a soulmate can be as easy as a swipe on a screen.

Online dating has become a very common method for meeting a significant other, with millions of Americans using dating apps or websites each year.

But finding love online can be dangerous.

Mitch Kajzer with the St. Joseph County Cyber Crimes Unit says catfishing schemes are all too common.

“And it's because people fall for it,” Kajzer said.

A catfishing scheme occurs when a person uses a fake identity, preys on a victim and starts an online romance with them. The end goal is usually abuse or fraud.

So how can you stop this from happening to you? Kajzer says it all starts with your online profile.

“Pick a reputable site, well known cite,” Kajzer said. “And then, when you create your profile, obviously put in honest information about things. But then there's stuff you don't want to put in there.”

Kajzer says you should avoid including personal information on your profile, like your phone number and real last name. It’s also best to use generic pictures.

But how do you know the person you’re talking to is real?

“Look at their profile, see what kind of information they have on there,” Kajzer said.

Doing a reverse search on their pictures or messages can show you if they were taken from other websites.

Other red flags to look out for are when the person you’re talking to will only communicate in text and refuses to video call. If they ever talk about the need for money or try to move the relationship along too quickly, those are major warning signs.

“You might even feel like it’s a dream come true and so you want to move very quickly,” said Dr. John Petersen, a licensed psychologist from Family Psychology of South Bend. “But pay attention to your own kind of internal alarms and then any blind spot that you have.”

Petersen says you should look for any warning signs before agreeing to meet them in person.

“We all wear rose-colored glasses in the beginning of a romantic relationship,” he said. “But we don’t always want the rose-colored glasses to be distorting reality.”

When you agree to meet up for a first date, have a safety plan in place.

“Someone should know where you are, who you are meeting with,” Kajzer said. “Pretty much everything about this person.”

Kajzer also suggests sharing your mobile location with friends and always telling a few people where you’re going.

Driving separately is also important, and Kajzer suggests meeting in a public place with a lot of traffic, like a busy restaurant or a coffee shop.

“You're just there for coffee,” he said. “You drink your coffee in 10 minutes and say, ‘Well, thank you,’ and be gone.”

For Claire Morrow and Cameron Morrissey, Tinder helped them find their happy ending. The two lived in the same college dorm but didn’t really know each other. And after they matched on Tinder, they decided to go on a date.

“We went to a coffee shop,” Morrow said. "Whenever I’d go on dates, I’d tell at least two people I was going."

“I was nervous,” Morrissey said. “I had never gone on a date with someone I met online, so I didn’t really know what to expect. She seemed fine, but who knows what could’ve happened?”

But it worked out, and now years later, they’re planning a wedding.

“It really worked out for us,” Morrow said. “Don’t get discouraged if you want to stick with it. I hope that everyone will find someone good and someone cool that they can spend the rest of their life with.”