Whether you’re using a dating app like Tinder or eHarmony to make a new romantic connection or getting to know a business contact from LinkedIn, meeting an internet friend in real life (IRL) comes with certain risks and dangers. Most likely, the only risk you’ll face is the threat of having an extremely awkward interaction. Nevertheless, it’s better to be safe than sorry when meeting a stranger — even if it’s just for your own peace of mind.
You can stay secure when meeting somebody IRL with the following internet safety tips for first-time meetups and dates.
1. Find a Public Space to Meet
If you’re nervous to meet your new romantic interest or business contact, keep in mind that the person you’re meeting is probably nervous too. By selecting a public location like a coffee shop, both you and your connection will feel safer. Starbucks is excellent, but if it’s someone you want to impress, choose an upscale cafe or boutique restaurant or bar.
Why coffee is great for a first meetup: Not only is a public coffee shop safer than meeting at someone’s home, your meetup partner is more likely to say yes to a low-level commitment like coffee — which could be as short as a 30-minute interaction. If you hit it off, you can always extend the meetup to dinner — and who knows what else!
2. Tell a Friend About Your Plans
Before meeting your future partner in crime or co-founder, tell at least one person what you’re up to — and give them the exact date, time and location of your meetup. Send your friend screenshots of the person’s online profile and any other info you have on them. Finally, tell your friend that you’ll send a check-in text so they know that everything is alright.
Plan a bailout strategy with your friend: If you want to be extra safe, ask your friend to hang out at a nearby restaurant or cafe and wait for your signal. If you need to bail on the meetup, you can signal your friend with a text to “randomly” stop by and crash your date. Having a friend come to the rescue like this could alleviate the pressure of an awkward situation. Another strategy is to have your friend give you a call about 20 minutes into the meetup. If you want to bail, you can say that something came up as a result of the phone call and you need to jet.
3. Research Your Connection
Digital people-search tools like Spokeo can reveal a lot more about the person you are planning to meet than a Google search query, as the platform combines data from online and offline sources. A quick search could even reveal criminal background information if the person has a court record (additional fees may apply). One of the biggest benefits of social media is that sites like Facebook and Instagram provide additional ways to see if the person is being honest with you, so don’t be shy about connecting with a new acquaintance interest on social media. If your meetup partner’s social media accounts look suspicious, Spokeo can also be used to help verify who those profiles belong to (and has been used to stop many a catfish in their tracks).
What if you discover something shady on Spokeo? Never let shyness or politeness keep you from bailing on a meeting or date — even if it’s simply because you don’t like the creepy cat photos all over their Instagram. You’re the one in charge and it’s your safety at risk. You can cancel whenever you want!
4. Follow Your Instincts
Sometimes your future date or networking connection will say all the right things and the details couldn’t be more perfect, but you still have some reservations — like a gut feeling that says something doesn’t measure up. Listen to these instincts and never question them. Cancel the date if it doesn’t feel right.
The block button is your friend! If you don’t have a good feeling about someone but they’re still pressuring you, it’s important to remember that you don’t owe this person anything — not even a response. That’s what the block button is for! While it’s polite to cancel instead of ghosting if someone isn’t being kind or respectful, just block them; they’ll get the message and you shouldn’t have to deal with them again (ever).
5. Be Careful With Alcohol (or Skip it All Together)
Alcohol can ease those first-date or networking event butterflies, but it’s dangerous to drink too much with a stranger (or to arrive to your meeting after having a drink or two). Even a single beer can make you more vulnerable to being manipulated or becoming a victim of assault. To stay safe during a first-time meetup, avoid consuming alcohol — or limit yourself to just one drink.
Keep your eyes on your drinks and your food: Someone could slip something into your food or drink when left unattended, so don’t leave your drinks or food unattended. And make sure that you know who handled your drink before you received it.
6. Use these apps for safer dating and meetups
As a final suggestion, don’t forget to take advantage of the many smartphone apps that can help you stay safe on your dates and first-time meetups. Here are a few of our favorites:
- uSafeUS: This app schedules a fake text message or phone call during the middle of your date or meetup to provide an excuse that will help you get out of an awkward or scary situation.
- Circle of 6: This app shares your exact location with a circle of your closest contacts. It also provides a help button that tells your friends and family you’re in trouble and where to find you in an emergency. Circle of 6 doesn’t look like a safety app, so the person who is threatening you won’t suspect you’re trying to call for help.
- Kitestring: This is a cool service that requires you to check in with it at specified intervals. If you haven’t checked in with Kitestring by the designated time, it notifies your emergency contact that you could be in trouble.
- Lyft and Uber: Providing your own transportation to a first-time date or meetup is essential. Even if you don’t have a car, use Lyft or Uber to get to your meetup on your own — and don’t accept a ride home from your date. This keeps your meetup partner from knowing where you live, and it lets you get home safely (without walking alone) if there’s a problem. And consider Lyft or Uber even if you have a car: It means another person will be present to pick you up and you won’t have to return to your car in a dark parking lot after the meetup. Wait inside the cafe or restaurant until your ride arrives.
Final Thoughts on Internet Safety Tips for a First-Time Meetup
At Spokeo, we often wonder how many dangerous meetups could have been avoided if people were more diligent in investigating their internet connections with our easy-to-use search tools. It doesn’t take much effort to use Spokeo. With just a name, phone number or email address you can pull up the most important data you need — even criminal records, in most cases — so you can learn everything you can about someone unknown. Try Spokeo now!
Along with his fascination for emerging technologies like internet technology, blockchain, encryption and the laws and market trends that follow them, Jeremy Hillpot’s background in consumer-investor fraud litigation provides a unique perspective on a vast array of topics including website tech, investments, startups, cryptocurrencies and the law.