Safely Meet Someone Online

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By: Andrea Eldridge, CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service company.

Connecting with strangers over the internet has become a common practice in this day and age. Whether it be meeting a person from Craigslist to make a transaction, pursuing a potential relationship on a dating platform, or for business purposes through a site like LinkedIn; meeting a person for the first time after having connected with them through the internet can be intimidating. Due to the lack of personal references that you would normally have when meeting someone recommended by a mutual friend or connection, getting together with somebody you met online can be quite nerve-racking.

Unfortunately, the internet offers people a means of providing false information to others by suing things such as pictures of others, fake photos, or claiming exaggerated social status. It is much simpler to present a different person online than it is face-to-face. The internet also provides an easy forum for people with malicious intent to find victims that are putting their real selves out there, looking for a match.

In order to protect yourself while still being able to move a potential relationship or transaction forward, let technology work for you. Start by creating an email address when initiating contact, make one or two accounts that you can dedicate to online activity. If you ever come into contact with somebody who scares you or does something to creep you out, you can ditch that email address without losing any work or personal contacts or information. You can also use a disposable phone number without having to go out and buy one of those sketchy “burner” phones. An app called Burner App creates unlimited real phone numbers with local area codes that can be used in the pap for calls, texts, and voice mails. If you start getting suspicious activity on a certain phone number, you can dispose of it at the touch of a button. The organization tool included in the app groups messages by phone number so that you can prioritize personal texts or something like eBay inquires. The Burner App is free to install, but you have to buy credits in order to purchase a phone number to use for a certain amount of time. Prices start at $2 for a number that will last one week with 20 minutes of talk and 60 texts.

Disposable phone numbers

It helps to use technology to separate your online activities from your real life, but it is important that you do not rely on technology to shield yourself too much. Before you ever go to safely meet someone for the first time, be sure you call them on the phone. It is much easier to lie or give false information over text or email than it is on the phone. Somebody that says that they are 20 will obviously not sound right on the one if they are 45. Some people may not be in love with the idea of talking on the phone, but it still never hurts just to hear what they sound like and if they seem to be unnecessarily nervous or pushy.

In the case of online dating, it always helps to do your research before you agree to safely meet someone person. You can start by using a free public records search directory for things like birth records, marriage licenses, and professional licenses. You can also search the National Sex Offender Registry and, if possible, do a criminal records search. If you want to verify that a piece of information that they gave you, check out Pipl.com. Pipl lets you perform a quick data search by name alone and shows things like publicly available phone numbers, addresses, employers, and more. If you do find something that is fishy, keep in mind that data without context can be misleading. With that said, if you discover a potential love interest may be married and has not told you anything about it, it could be a red flag.

When considering a meeting place, there are a few obvious rules that apply:

If you still feel uncomfortable about meeting a person from online for the first time, bring somebody with you. Although you may not always be able to bring another person with you, there is an option for a friend or family member to tag along virtually. With the bSafe app, you can use the “Follow Me” function and set a timer for when you should be done. The app will then trace your steps and alert your friends or family members if you do not check in before the designated time. You can also invite friend to “walk with me” using your live GPS trace so that they know where you are at all times. bSafe can also get you out of an awkward situation with the “Fake Call” function. You can enter who you want the call to appear from, designate when you want it to happen, and the phone will ring looking like a completely legitimate call. The best parts about this app are the easy to use interface, and the fact that it is completely free, there is no charge for features that others may consider “premium”.

Easy to use interface

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, a computer repair company that specializes in on-site and online service for homes and businesses. Andrea is the writer of a weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She prepares TV segments for and appears regularly on CBS, CW and FOX on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, More Good Day Portland, and CBS 13 News, offering viewers technology and lifestyle tips. See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea/.

Video Transcript

Keba: That is right. It’s Tech Tuesday. So we are talking about online dating, connecting with strangers over the internet. It is so common these days. And Valentine’s Day, of course, right around the corner. It is this Sunday, guys. Just putting it out there. It’s Sunday. We’re talking about how to stay safe while meeting someone new online. Co-Founder of Nerds on Call, Ryan Eldridge. Ryan, good to see you again.

Ryan: Hi. It’s good to see you.

Keba: So online dating, it is very popular. And even nowadays people aren’t ashamed of it. They are very open about it. Back in the day you used to do it sort of secretly, right?

Ryan: Yeah, because it was like they had the stigma of personals. You know putting yourself out there on the personals or on a Craig’s List and kind of like selling yourself. But yeah, now it’s pretty commonplace. I mean, if you think about it, when we were in college and high school, it was easy to meet people but now we see the same people every day, and Mike’s already married so it’s not something that you’re going to be like, “Hey, do you know any friends or whatever?” You’re going to go through that quick.

Keba: Right. It’s harder these days. So why is it so nerve wracking? You’ve developed this sort of online relationship. Now it is time to meet in person. That can be scary.

Ryan: It really can, because it’s easy to lie online. You can post fake photos. You can exaggerate your social status. You can just lie. And it’s a great place for predators to get a lot of people at once. So you just have to be safe, and one of the things that we talk about is before you meet, one of the things that you can do is video chat with them, which a lot of people don’t think about. It’s hard to say, “I’m 25.”

Keba: Skype, right?

Ryan: Yeah, and then when you see him in person you go, “Hey, you are a really old looking 25-year-old.”

Keba: Right, right. Okay, so you can do that. That’s before you meet. Or have a phone conversation. At least talk to them on the phone.

Ryan: At least a phone conversation, because you can tell a little bit but don’t just IM and email because who knows what you’re going to meet? At least a phone call or Skype. But one of the things you can do is use technology to kind of protect yourself, and create a barrier where you can be safer. One of the things we recommend is that everyone create multiple email addresses, not just for their personal account and their banking, but also for your online activity. So that way if you meet a creep or something, you don’t have to lose your entire email address. You can just ditch that email and not worry about it anymore.

Keba: That’s a good idea. Right.

Ryan: And there’s another cool one. This is called “Burner App.”

Keba: I love this. Explain what Burner App is.

Ryan: So we all have our cell phone, and we’re texting back and forth, maybe to that potential mate. We’re like, “Hey what’s going on?” Well, the problem is that if they get a hold of your text, they can start blowing up your phone or calling at all hours, and it’s not cool. So Burner App is an app you can install on your phone for free, and it will give you unlimited real phone numbers with local area codes. You can use it for calls and texts and voicemail.

Keba: So it’s a fake phone number but still linked to your device?

Ryan: Yeah, and it organizes those calls as they come in by number. So if you’re selling some stuff on Craig’s List or eBay but you’re also doing some online dating, you can keep it all organized. And if a creep gets on there, you press a button, and that phone number is burned. They can’t get a hold of you.

Keba: It’s gone. I love that. What about doing your research, Ryan, before you actually, “Okay, we’re going to meet this day, this time. What about researching this person?

Ryan: Yeah. So you can…

Keba: We’re not saying background checks, right?

Ryan: Well, you can do background check.

Keba: Okay.

Ryan: There’s a free place online. It’s called Publicrecords.onlinesearches.com. And there you can look at marriage certificates. You can see where they’ve lived. You can see any professional licenses that they have, all kinds of great stuff. This is another one they’re showing on the screen there. It’s called People, P-I-P-L dot com. This is great if you don’t know anything but their name. Problem is that this is going to pull up all kinds of stuff on them, and some of it may not be accurate. So you want to make sure you put it in context. But if you see a marriage license on there you can say, “Hey, have you’ve ever been married before?” And if they say, “No.” You can go, “Tell me about Sharon.” It kind of catches them.

Keba: So if you do find something fishy or scary, what do you do?

Ryan: Well…

Keba: Besides not meet that person.

Ryan: Well, obviously I would ask them about them, because information out of context can be really blown out of the water, or if it’s not accurate…the pipl.com is just pulling up records from all over that’s freely available to everybody. I recommend you kind of put yourself in there, and see how accurate it is before you start blaming somebody else.

Keba: That’s a good idea. Check yourself first. What about meeting places?

Ryan: Here’s a big one.

Keba: Don’t invite them over to the place.

Ryan: No. Don’t give your work or home or school address no matter how awesome they seem, because you can’t take it back once you do. And when you’re setting up a place to meet, get two or three in mind. That way if the first one doesn’t work out, you don’t have to go to wherever they want to go. You can just go, “Oh well, I’ve got another one lined up.” Go to this place, or go to this place.

Keba: Oh, you’re saying dates?

Ryan: Yeah. So you’re going on a date, and you want to meet them. You don’t want to just go, “Oh, well, let’s just meet at that Starbucks” and then have no backup plan in case that Starbucks is closed or too crowded or too noisy.

Keba: I see. You’re saying have multiple places, not multiple dates. Sorry.

Ryan: Yeah. No, why not have multiple dates?

Keba: Okay, so multiple places. What about letting someone know where you are? I’m really big on that one. “Hey, I plan to be here at this time.”

Ryan: Yeah, for like selling something on Craig’s List or something, you can usually bring somebody with you. But if you’re dating, it’s hard to bring somebody along with you. So this is an app called “Getbesafe.com” or “Besafe.”

Keba: Okay, Besafe.com.

Ryan: And the cool part about this is, it’s got a Follow Me function. When you click on it, it sets a timer for you to check back in. So you say, “Well, I’m going to be on this date for about an hour,” and it’ll set a timer and if you don’t check back in within that hour, it’ll go off and alert all of your friends and let them know, “Hey, something’s wrong. Keba’s not available right now, and they can start looking for you, calling your phone or whatever. There’s also another option called Follow Me where your friends can follow you on a map, your GPS coordinates on a map and kind of see where you are in case you disappear. And there’s, the best part of this entire app is called Fake Call. So…

Keba: Fake call. I love that.

Ryan: You can excuse yourself to the restroom and type in, “Oh, I want this caller ID to show my mom and call me in 30 minutes.”

Keba: “Oh, I got to go.”

Ryan: And then your phone will call, and you go, “Oh, it’s my mom! It’s an emergency! I got to go!” That way, you can get out of that date if there’s something weird.

Keba: Okay, so bottom line, just be safe. Tell people where you’re going, and do a little homework before you agree to meet said person.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s really…you know when we’re dating somebody, we get into that infatuation stage. It’s real easy to fall into trust, but keep in mind that you can’t take information back once you’ve given it out, and so just be safe for a little while. And then when you’re ready, then you can start giving it out, maybe second date or third or something like that.

Keba: Okay. Good advice. Ryan Eldridge, Co-Founder of Nerds on Call, thank you.

Ryan: You’re welcome.

Kebar: Okay. Mike, over to you.