Over the past several years, the popularity of online dating has skyrocketed compared to where it originally started. In fact, dating apps and websites have given single people a convenient new way to connect with people.

But, with this ease of use comes some new issues, particularly in the form of safety. For instance, interacting with strangers online can put you at risk for identity theft, online harassment, stalking, digital dating abuse, catfishing, and other scams. And, if you do decide to meet up “in real life” (IRL) with someone you met online, there also is the chance that you could find yourself in physical danger as well.

To make navigating the online dating scene a little easier and safer, we have compiled a list of important facts about online dating. We also have put together some tips for selecting the best app for you as well as included keys to staying safe in the online dating world.

Cold, Hard Facts About Online Dating

Whether you are new to online dating, or you consider yourself a pro, it helps to have a clear understanding of what dating apps offer including how often they are used, how they are viewed by others, and even how honest people are when building their profiles. Here is everything you need to know about the online dating industry.

Online dating is growing in popularity

According to the eHarmony website, an online dating program for Christian singles, more than 40 million Americans are using online dating websites.

40% of Americans use online dating as a way to meet new people. What’s more, 27% of young adults report using online dating sites, which is a 10% increase from 2013.

Researchers speculate that this increase is due to the fact that dating apps are now available on smartphones. Meanwhile, online dating among 55 to 64-year-olds has also risen substantially with 12% indicating they use online dating sites compared to only 6% in 2013.

Online dating has lost some of its stigmas

In 2005, when the Pew Research Center first studied online dating habits, most Americans felt it was a subpar way of meeting people. But in their most recent study, nearly half of the public either knows someone who uses online dating or has met a spouse or partner through online dating. Still, 23% of Americans still think “people who use online dating sites are desperate.”

People lie when using online dating sites

To some, it probably comes as no surprise that people lie when creating their online dating profiles. But a whopping 53% of Americans tell little white lies when developing their online profiles according to a survey conducted by the global research firm, Opinion Matters. Overall, women tend to post younger photos of themselves while claiming to be thinner. Meanwhile, men tend to embellish the truth when it comes to their careers attempting to appear more successful than they really are.

Some online daters assume you just want to hook up

Research suggests that many men who use online dating apps assume that women are looking for sex. But studies have shown that is not the case. For instance, the majority of Tinder’s female users are looking for a genuine match and not a fling, even though the app has earned the reputation as being “the hook up” app. In fact, 60% of Tinder’s female users are looking for a relationship and do not want to hook up, according to informal research conducted by the Huffington Post. What’s more, Statistic Brain reports that only 33% of women using online dating websites say they have sex on their first date with an online match.

Statistically, Online Relationships Don’t Last

According to research conducted by Michigan State University, relationships that begin online are nearly 30% more likely to break down than relationships that began through a mutual friend or where couples met face-to-face first. And for couples who met online and then got married, the chances of that relationship working out are even gloomier, with online couples three times as likely to get divorced.

Online Dating Can Be De-Humanizing

The Association of Psychological Science says many people treat online dating like shopping. They swipe through photos looking for the perfect mate often dismissing someone more quickly than they would have had they first met the person face-to-face. Consequently, the researchers warn that online dating can make you picky and judgmental.

Some People Really Are Finding Love Online

According to Statistic Brain’s Online Dating Industry Report, 20% of committed relationships began online. What’s more, they say that 17% of couples that were married in the last year met on a dating website. Meanwhile, Pew Research Center reports that two-thirds of online daters have gone out with someone they were matched with. But, they also found that one-third of people who have used online dating have never actually gone on a date. So, the odds of meeting someone online are improving.

Choosing the Best App for You

When it comes to selecting the best online dating app for you, reading reviews and comparing apps can get confusing, especially when the features and options not only vary widely but are constantly changing and evolving as developers change and improve the apps. And with more than 7,500 dating apps worldwide, there definitely are a lot to choose from. But, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Follow these few simple steps to help you find the best app for you.

Review the Safety Features

Online dating can be a risky endeavor because there are so many unknowns. Consequently, you want to be sure that the app you select has some built-in safety features. Ideally, the app will promote its safety guidelines on the sign-up page. But if they do not, or if the safety guidelines are particularly hard to find, you may want to find a different app.

Check Out the Reporting and Blocking Features

Let’s face it, when it comes to online dating, you are going to meet a few weirdos along the way – people that either creep you out or are just downright toxic. When this happens, you want to be able to report their behavior as well as block them from contacting you. For this reason, it is important to know upfront about how the app provides these features. And, if for some reason, there are no reporting or blocking features, then move on to the next app.

Determine the Level of Visibility the App Provides

When reviewing an app, check to see if you are able to control the visibility of your profile. Ideally, you want an app that allows more options to secure your profile. The less you have, the more exposed your information is on the Internet. For instance, the app, Hinge, offers several options for users to control who they see and who sees them. Just remember, the more options an app provides in this area, the better.

Remember, you do not know the people on the dating app and giving them access to your social media profile like photos of your family could be risky, especially if you are a single parent

Remember, you do not know the people on the dating app and giving them access to your social media profile like photos of your family could be risky, especially if you are a single parent

Avoid Sites and Apps That Allow Messaging Prior to Matching

No one likes receiving unwanted photos or creepy messages, which certainly is a possibility within dating apps. As a result, it is best to select an app that requires both people to have an interest before messaging can take place. This way, you can reduce the number of unwanted messages you get and limit it to only the people you want to be communicating with.

Pay Attention to the Geography Settings

Many online dating apps use your location as a way of allowing you to find possible matches. However, make sure the app allows you to some control over this setting. It is never a good idea to have an app that allows complete strangers to pinpoint where you are or even find your specific neighborhood. Sharing that kind of information just sets you up for problems.

Look for Free Trials and Free Versions

Most dating apps have both a free version and a paid version. As a result, you shouldn’t shell out for the paid membership before you even know if you like the app or if it will be useful. What’s more, having the free version is not going to keep you from meeting new people.

When you are first starting out, it can be a lot more beneficial to try several different apps to see what works rather than purchasing the premium membership before you have even taken it for a test drive. Plus, dating apps can get expensive if you are paying $10 to $25 a month for the service.

Reconsider Apps That Link to Social Media

Most dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge allow people to share data from their social media profiles. This is mostly harmless, but be aware of how much information is revealed on your dating profile as a result.

You also want to keep where you went to school, where you hang out, and even your employer private. Making this information available means that even after you have blocked people through the app, they still could still find you and harass you through social media.

Staying Safe While Using Dating Apps

While you are never to blame if someone behaves in a predatory or disrespectful way toward you in the online dating world, there are things you can do to stay safe. Here are some useful safety tips you can put into practice right away to help you be more mindful.

Use a Unique Photo

When developing your dating profile, avoid using the same photo that you have on your social media accounts. If you use the same photo as your Facebook photo or your Instagram page, it is really easy for someone to do a reverse image search with Google. As a result, if you are using the same photo on all your accounts, it is much easier for someone to find you on social media.

Leave Out the Personal Details

When developing your online dating profile, make sure you do not include your last name, contact information, nicknames, or social media handles. You want to keep the personal details to a minimum. After all, if you come across someone who is a little on the creepy side, you don’t want them having too much information about you.

You may even want to tighten the security on your social media accounts to add another layer of protection. For instance, on Facebook change your page to where everything is private and only able to be viewed by “Friends,” not “Friends of Friends.”

Stay Inside the App

When you are messaging with a potential date, or even after a few dates, it is best to message one another inside the app. Although this might be inconvenient, if something doesn’t work out, you do not have to worry about the fact that the person has your cell number.

What’s more, staying inside the app provides you with an extra layer of protection. Some messaging systems with dating apps do not allow people to send photos or links, which can really reduce the number of unwanted photos you get.

Set Up a Google Phone Number

Eventually, you will want to talk with someone on the phone, either after you have met or beforehand. But instead of giving out your cell number, consider getting a Google phone number and forwarding it to your phone. It is pretty easy to set up. Once you log in to Google Voice, you simply choose your area code and select an available number. The instructions on the rest of the set-up process are pretty simple to follow.

Take Precautions When Meeting IRL

Avoid letting someone know exactly where you live. Instead, arrange to meet in a public place and provide your own transportation. You also should let a close friend know where you will be and when you will be home. You want your friends to know as much information as possible should something go wrong.

Once on your date, be sure you stay aware and alert. Do not leave your drink unattended and keep the first few dates short. You may even want to bring a self-defense tool with you such as pepper spray or a high-powered flashlight. And, if the person you are meeting is making you uncomfortable or scared, enlist the help of a friend in leaving the situation. Remember, you should never feel bad about putting your safety first. Even if you have to do something rude to escape a situation, you need to make sure you are safe.