Online dating has become a huge area. It offers many advantages over other 'offline' methods. It can lead to many friendships, and long-term relationships, but it pays to use a common sense approach. Reading these tips will help you consider your own safety and give you ideas on ensuring your cyberdating experience is an enjoyable one.

Use a free email account
When joining personals services, using a free email account means it's easier to keep track of correspondence and also ensures your normal email is safe. A couple of major sites offering free email are Yahoo, Hotmail and Bigfoot.

Always remember to use different hard-to-guess passwords, and ensure your login-name doesn't match the password. This helps prevent any chancers attempting to 'hijack' your memberships.

Ensure Anonymity
Many sites offer their own messaging system allowing you to contact singles using their service as opposed to the email you used to join with. Double check that any online agencies you consider joining do offer this. If they don't, then having a free email account still offers some degree of anonymity as opposed to using your main Internet Provider address.

When it comes to early communication, remember never to give away any personal information. Don't reveal your full name, email address, telephone number or your work/home address. Should anybody start asking these questions too early, that's a definite warning sign. Remember, you are in control and can stop communicating with people if you don't feel comfortable or their tone and line of questioning isn't to your liking.

After a few emails, you may feel it's time to talk on the phone. The man should give his phone number, and the woman is best to call him (but not give out her phone number).

Personal Profiles
When you first join a site, many ask you to create a profile 'Nickname'. When doing so, avoid the likes of 'Angie-MacEvans-Chicago' and 'Super Sexy Sexpot' as the first is too revealing and the second means you're more likely to attract a lot of unwanted advances. If you participating in chats, messaging or forums, keep your nickname simple.

When writing the actual profile, don't reveal too much personal information that could be used to identify you offline. Even in 2003 I still see a fair number of profiles that contain introductory lines that begin to reveal far too much information - 'Hi, I'm Angie-MacEvans, a 27 year old Computer-Widgets secretary from the leafy suburb of Daphne, Chicago'. Although some sites screen profiles to prevent any such scenarios occurring, others let personal ads appear almost immediately.

Honesty and Trust
Developing any online relationships require a great deal of honesty and trust. How can you really know that 'HandsomeHarrison' is really a 25 year old 6ft blue-eyed blonde haired CEO from California? For all you know, he could be a she, and she could be a 40-year old loner from Antartica. Ok, extreme example, but there are many sickos online who have got nothing better to do than waste people's time and mess them about.

When communicating, develop trust - ask questions (e.g. their interests, hobbies, education and career) and if the person isn't forthcoming, their facts don't quite add up or they conveniently forget to include pertinent information, then go with your intuition and move on. There's no point wasting time on people who aren't honest or may be lying. Keep looking till you find people who are honest, trustworthy and show the right kind of interest in you; those who are willing to ask questions and answer them in a polite and non-threatening manner. The foundation of any good relationship is built on these characteristics.

During communication with singles, don't feel under any pressure to meet somebody. If they start emailing you with demands, like 'Honey, we have to meet by next week or that's it, I won't talk to you anymore', then that should signal the bell in your head telling you to drop this bozo. Nobody who has a true interest in you would dare jeopardize it by emailing threatening demands.

In your own case, if you start conversing with somebody and find that they simply aren't your type or don't interest you, then be polite and honest. Don't start making excuses and wasting their time by giving an impression that there's a chance of actually meeting. Similarly, if you show a photo, make sure it's a recent one.

Take your Time
Don't rush in and pay for services only to be dissapointed with the results. Read the reviews, browse the site and member profiles themselves before considering upgrading from a free membership to a paid one.

It's in your own interests to understand the searching and browsing features of each site - they are your friend and are there to help you narrow down the search to those singles who closely match the criteria you specify. Use advanced searching to improve your prospects further.

The great thing about online dating is that there aren't any time limits. It's not like in the Singles Bars where especially towards closing time there's that rush of 'having to find somebody'. With online dating you can do it from the comfort of your own bed!

Before Meeting Offline
After you are sure the person you want to meet offline is of interest, there are a few more tips you should consider.

You could ask the person for a couple of references - from friends, co-workers or family. Honest people should recognise that you are serious about dating and are clued up on safety. Those with nothing to hide and a geniune interest shouldn't be put off.

You might also consider checking some details yourself, like if they do really work at, or attended UCLA for 4 years. A bit of checking might reveal that they did spend 4 years in California, but it was the CSP they attended (state penetentiary).

Some sites are specifically tailored to provide background checks - for instance a service like Checkmate1 does this.

You can do your own online search here.

Always remember to carefully read about any service before joining. Be even more careful about what information you reveal and spend a good bit of time browsing before finding people to begin conversing with.

Back to the Dating Tips index or read some of my Dating Services reviews.