Valentine’s Day 2013 is almost here. Are you single and looking for new romance? For many, online dating is the best way to put yourself in the path of Cupid’s arrow on February 14.

Unfortunately, there’s a darker side to internet personals. It’s important to steer clear of suspicious paid-membership sites and scammers disguised as soul mates. Don’t let fraudsters break your heart this Valentine’s Day. Let’s review some of the safe singles’ sites on the web and how to avoid scams while looking for love online.

 

Why Online Dating Works

We’ve explored online dating dangers in the past on the Scambook Blog. Many users have been conned by individuals who lie about their identity. Others sign up for paid memberships on sites that appear legitimate, only to find their credit cards charged with unauthorized fees. If you’ve never tried online dating, you might feel like the risks outweigh the potential benefits.

But according to a 2012 study conducted by Drexel University, 1 in 5 Americans meet their future spouse via dating websites like Zoosk, Match.com, eHarmony and OK Cupid. In fact, so many singles are looking for Mr. or Ms. Right on the web that online dating is an estimated $1.9 billion industry.

People love online dating for a number of reasons:

 

  • You can meet new people without going to bars or clubs
  • You can screen a potential match for “deal breaker” traits, like smoking or having no interest in children
  • You can discover common interests and shared beliefs right away, avoiding awkward first-date ice breakers
  • You can keep the conversation at your own speed from the safety and comfort of your home

 

When done “right,” online dating lets you connect with compatible matches right away so you don’t waste time on dead-end dates. On average, couples who meet online get married after only 18.5 months of dating, versus couples who meet through traditional dating where the average courtship lasts 42 months before marriage.

So are you ready to try online dating? The first step is finding a safe, legitimate dating website.

Best Paid and Free Dating Sites on the Web

The phrase “online dating” returns about 410,000,000 results on Google. So how do you know which sites to use? First, decide whether or not you’re willing to pay for a dating website. Then, do a little research. You’ll find dozens of sites and blog articles reviewing the “Top 10 Paid Online Dating Sites” or “Best 100% Free Online Dating”.

For paid subscription sites, we like:

 

  • Match.com. With an estimated 96,000,000 users, Match.com is one of the biggest online dating sites on the web and one of the oldest. The site also hosts in-person meet-up events, called Stirs, all around the country. It’s free to create a profile, upload your photo and search for matches, but you need to buy a membership to contact other people.

 

  • Zoosk.com. Another top-ranking paid site, Zoosk integrates with social media sites like Facebook to make it easier for you to complete your profile. Like Match.com, it’s free to join but the features are very limited unless you subscribe.

 

  • Chemistry.com. Chemistry.com is part of the same network that owns Match.com, but its matching questionnaire is specifically designed to pair individuals for long-term relationships. A free account lets you take personality tests, create a profile, and browse, but a paid subscription is required if you want to talk to your matches.

 

Paid sites offer extra features that free sites don’t have, and some reviewers believe that you’ll find better people on these sites because the users put more effort into their paid profiles. Just remember to read user reviews and see what Scambook members are saying before you sign up.

We also recommend using a prepaid credit card to buy your membership. If you have any problems cancelling your subscription or encounter unauthorized charges, you’ll be able to cancel the card without affecting your primary financial accounts.

But if you’re not interested in paying for a membership, you can also try these free dating sites:

 

  • OKCupid.com. OK Cupid has an estimated 3.5 million active users and many consider it to be best dating site on the web, period. It’s completely free, though members can upgrade to a paid “A-List” membership to remove site ads and get bonus features.

 

  • PlentyofFish.com. POF, as it’s called, is another 100% free dating site. Like OK Cupid, users can upgrade to a paid premium account, but there’s no cost to create a profile or contact other users. With an estimated 5.3 million visitors, it may be the biggest free site for online dating.

 

All of these sites have mobile apps for your iPhone, iPad or Android device, but remember that these downloads are always optional. If a dating site asks you to download and install software, don’t do it. Always be sure to keep your browser updated and anti-virus software installed.

Once you’ve picked a site to try, it’s time to create a profile and start chatting with your matches! This can be fun and exciting, but remember, you still need to keep your guard up.

 

4 Online Dating Safety Tips

As you begin talking to your matches online, follow these four tips to avoid online dating dangers:

1. Don’t use your real name or give too much detailed information about yourself, such as your address, phone number or where you work. You should also think twice before you include a link to your Facebook profile, Twitter or other social media accounts. You may have sensitive personal information on social media that you don’t necessarily want to disclose on a dating site.

2. Don’t send or receive gifts (or money) to someone you haven’t met. This is very important. Even if you’ve been chatting for months and you feel a connection with this person, you can’t confirm anyone’s identity online. Most online romance scams start slow and occur over long periods of time, with the scammer sending you little gifts or asking for small favors. It’s how they build up your trust. Don’t fall for it. Never give anyone your address until you’ve gotten to know them face-to-face.

When you meet someone from an online personals site, always do it in a safe public place. Coffee shops are just one example of a perfect meeting spot.

3. Keep things light — and local. Similarly, don’t trust someone who wants to move too fast online. It’s a big red flag if they say they love you or ask for a relationship commitment before you’ve even met in person. Restrict your match searches to your immediate area and meet up before chatting becomes long and intense. If your match refuses to meet you, move on.

You should also be very cautious with anyone who claims to be serving in the military or working overseas. If you seem to hit it off with someone who is temporarily abroad, press the “pause” button. Stop communicating until he or she returns to the US and you can actually meet. A real person will understand and respect this.

4. Meet in a public place. When you’re ready to meet your cyber-date, do it in a well-lit public place with other people around. Make transportation arrangements ahead of time so you don’t have to rely on your date to give you a ride home. You should also tell a friend or family member where you’re going, who you’re meeting and when you expect to return. Have fun and don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable.

 

So Are You Looking for Love Online?

We want to hear from you! What are your online dating stories? Do you think online dating is overrated or is it a better way to meet people? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Tune in again on Monday, February 11 when we’ll have a brand new Scambook TV video that’s all about Valentine’s Day cyber scams and how to avoid them.

 

See Also

Top 3 Valentine’s Day Cyber Scams to Watch Out For
Online Dating Scams: Women Over 50 Most Likely to be Victims
Looking for Love Online? Watch Out for Fake Profiles on Popular Dating Sites

About The Author

Miranda Perry is the staff writer for Scambook.com, where she blogs about consumer issues, fraud and cyber security. She hopes to inspire readers to think critically about the world around them and take action to improve their lives.

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3 Responses

  1. Christina Pike

    I am a Born-Again christian (Pentecostal) and definitely want a christian. My Faith is totally central to who I am and how I live. The denomination is not so important as Christian. i just wanted to check: I am sure these are legitimate, straight -up sites. But it doesn’t hurt to check. thank you so much. By the way, I left a message the other day re: the 419.bittenus E-Mail. I was receiving them daily and sometimes more than that and suddenly it stopped I would definitely like to re-instate this E-Mail. Actually, I forward the Fraudsters to the Authorities so that these people can actually be prosecuted and stopped, not just “flagged.” Please re-instate me again on this Daily E-Mail: 419bittenus.com thank you so much. Christina Pike [PERSONAL INFORMATION REMOVED]

    Reply
  2. Jon

    “You can screen a potential match for “deal breaker” traits, like smoking or having an interest in children”

    Fixed that for you!

    Reply
  3. Chase Howard

    I think that the tips that you gave were very helpful. If someone ever asks you for money, that is a red flag right there and you should stop talking to them at all costs. There are plenty of online romance Russian scams that target people into giving them money in exchange for meeting them. If money is involved in any way, stay away! But sometimes some scammers can be quite convincing, so if you are not sure about someone, you should conduct an international background check to make sure the person you are talking is legitimate.

    Reply

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