Safety first at dating sites

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

It seems us Kiwis are spending more time online.

A four-week Nielsen//NetRatings NetWatch survey of regular internet users shows New Zealanders are spending up to 90 more minutes online than they did four years ago.

Interestingly, of the top 10 New Zealand sites that held their visitors’ attention for the longest periods of time, three were internet personals — the singles bars of the digital age.

NZDating took out the No 1 spot, with visitors spending more than 18 minutes on the site at a time. Find Someone took out fifth place and Personal Stuff (update: the site no longer exists) ranked eighth.

Of course, auction site Trade Me also featured, coming second on the list of lengthy visits.

It’s a good thing they didn’t survey me — my computer is always online and I have a tendency to load a site, then (being easily distracted) wander off to do something else for the next hour or three.

Spending more time online is a good thing; the more time we spend surfing the more familiar and comfortable we become with this inter-web thingy. However, familiarity and comfort aren’t always such good things.

Online dating sites have become incredibly popular but it’s easy for users to feel bullet-proof when dealing with a faceless stranger on the other end on an e-mail message. Safety should be first and foremost in the thoughts of anyone using these sites.

If you’re communicating with someone online, don’t give out any personal information that you wouldn’t want your average crazed psychopath to have access to. This includes your full name, address or phone number. Yes, he might seem like a lovely bloke but how do you know he isn’t sitting at his motel wearing his mother’s clothes while he sharpens up his carving knife collection?

When it’s time to meet Mr (or Ms) Right, do it in a public place with lots of other people around.
Organise your own transport there and home again, that way if he or she turns out to be a lunatic (or a total knob), it’s easier to cut off all contact. You don’t want to come home from work and find your pet bunny simmering on the stove.

I know three happy couples who have met online via chat rooms and dating sites so don’t worry, it’s not all bad news. However, just like real life, you have to be aware of the dangers.

Don’t put yourself at risk.


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