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Covering your tracks

Tips for dating safely online

By Janaki Mistry, 16 February 2017

Valentine’s Day is over for another year and you might have spent it with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone you have a crush on. If you didn't spend it with anyone special, you might be thinking of meeting someone new online. But there are some risks with online dating, especially for under-18s.


Warnings about using online dating sites

There are some risks to using online dating sites. Here are some things you should think about if you’re dating online.

  • Most dating sites are for people aged 18 and above. If you join a site and don’t give your real age, it means that everyone else on the site will be older than you and will believe you’re an adult.
  • Any information you share on dating websites, including your age and your profile picture, will be seen by other users. They could use this information for their personal use without you knowing.
  • People on dating sites aren’t always who they say they are. Someone who might tell you they’re the same age as you could actually be three times your age.
  • People always want different things from dating websites – while you may be looking for a long-term boyfriend or girlfriend, they could be looking for someone to have sex with.
  • Some people might try to persuade you to do things you aren’t comfortable with or are against the law e.g. sending them sexual photos of yourself.
  • Some dating sites and apps, like Happn and Tinder, use location settings to match you with someone. This means that someone nearby to you can get your personal details without you knowing.


What about teen dating sites, like MyLOL.com?

Recent reports show that MyLOL, the UK’s top dating site for under-18s, has users who aren’t who they claim to be and are out to target children. Investigations carried out by the NSPCC and the Sunday Mirror found users who were much older than 13-24 age range for the site.

The NSPCC said it only took three minutes to find a 24 year old man messaging a 13 year old girl.

You & Co wants young people to be aware of the dangers of using some of these sites and that people aren’t always who they say they are.


How to stay safe if you’re meeting up with someone you’ve never met

If you’re thinking about meeting up with someone you met online, make sure to follow these rules and tips to keep you safe:

  • Tell at least one trusted adult who you’re meeting, where you’re going and at what time
  • Arrange to meet and stay in a busy and public place, at a place that you’re familiar with, like a coffee shop in your local town.
  • Take a trusted, responsible adult with you.
  • Remember to always trust your instinct if something doesn’t feel right and leave as soon as possible.
  • Don’t get a lift with the person you’re meeting.
  • Make sure you take a mobile phone with you and make sure it’s switched on and has a full battery.


Get help if you don’t feel safe online

If you don’t feel safe online, there are a number of people you can talk to:

  • You & Co offers one-to-one support through our free Supportline on 08 08 16 89 111 (24-hour at the weekend, 8pm-8am in the week). You can find out support near you.
  • ChildLine runs a 24-hour helpline on 0800 1111, which gives advice and support for any issues you may be dealing with.
  • Thinkuknow provides information on how to stay safe online for young people as well as parents and guardians.
  • The Mix provides information and support for 16-25 year olds on a whole range of issues, including dating safety online. Get confidential help by phone, email, text or webchat, for young people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994
  • You can also ask a trusted adult for help and support if it makes you more comfortable.