To start off, this isn't meant to be a thread that puts down online dating, but I thought that I would clarify the forum's stance on it.
Online Dating: What is it?
Online dating is commonly, among younger members, thought of as basically talking to a "boy/girl"(or other member) and calling them your boyfriend and girlfriend. There is no meeting involved, no phone calls, or any real physical contact. Normally these "relationships" consist of messaging or e-mailing each other.
The fact is, this is not online dating. This is having a penpal. You don't love each other simply because you exchanged an e-mail or two and share a liking for Panic! at the Disco.
Online dating, real online dating, is meeting through either a dating site or any other place online and conducting a relationship through phone, meetings, etc. In most cases, they were introduced through friends or a common interest and were friends before taking a step into a relationship.
Online Dating: Is it safe?
Under no circumstances is online dating safe if it goes beyond sharing e-mails or messaging each other. Most sites do not have the sources or even care to check whether or not their members are sexual predators(even though online dating sites are now required to do so for all members). For all you know, that person you just sent a message to is a 50 year old per'vert, hoping to entice you into meeting him so he can rape and kill you.
There have been cases where online relationships work and the person is who they say they are, but under no circumstances is this the norm. In most cases, these people have lied about certain aspects of themselves so as to make themselves more appealing to others or even, in some cases, do not exist. Some sites create fake profiles to entice people to join the site, so what keeps anyone else from doing the same?
To get my case across, here are some links to stories of girls who decided to meet their online "boyfriends/girlfriends":
Girl lured over internet is found
Internet Predator News Stories Archive - Chat nightmares that have made it to the news headlines in the past.
Man Accused Of Luring Mass. Teen To Charlotte Over The Internet - Charlotte News Story - WSOC Charlotte
You'll note that in just about every case, these girls were under the age of 18.
Online Dating: How do I keep safe if I want to date online?
First off, under no circumstances should anyone under the age of 18 be dating online. Its more commonly girls under the age of 18 who are duped into meeting a guy(or girl) that they met online and end up having a bad result. Girls, simply don't do it if you are under 18.
For anyone 18+, I have compiled a list of questions and answers for you in regards to this.
Q: How long should I wait before meeting someone?
A: Don't meet anyone enless you have known them for a long period of time(preferably a year or more) or a friend(who you know in real life) knows them in real life and introduced you online. If a friend introduced you, this basically guarantees that that are who they say they are. If you are just talking to them online, a year or more should give you time to get a full feel for this person and if there are any inconsistencies in who they say they are.
Q: I want to meet someone. Where and when should I do so?
A: If you plan on meeting someone, you should always meet them in a public place where there will be a lot of people in broad daylight. Meeting in private places or at nighttime can create a setting where he/she can easily lure you away(or take advantage of you if its secluded enough).
Q: How should I get to(or leave) the meeting place?
A: First off, under no circumstances let him/her pick you up or take a ride. There's no guarantee they'll take you where you want to go and, if they do, it provides them with the knowledge of where you or a friend lives. Instead, have a friend drop you off and pick you up at certain times. Don't change these times! If you drive yourself, remember to have your friend call in or to have a friend with you.
Q: I've set up a place, time, and obtained a ride. Is there anything else I should set up before going to this meeting?
A: First off, try to arrange for a friend or group of friends to come with you. If you can't, have them call in at regular intervals to make sure you are alright. If at any point in time he starts to get angry about this, have an escape plan set up. An easy one is to excuse yourself to the bathroom, then call your friend to let her know what is going on. Have her call you when you go back out so as to pretend an emergency is going on.
Q: Is there any other safety precautions I should take?
A: There are lots of things you should(or shouldn't) do, besides the ones listed above, while out on a date or meeting someone online. Some of them are:
-Do not let yourself be brought to any private setting or even the corner of a public place. It's easy to intimidate someone there to go somewhere else through physical and mental threats.
-Never leave food or drink unattended and always get your food/drink yourself or directly from the staff at an eatery/pub/club/etc. If you let him/her get it, they could easily slip a date rape drug into it without your knowledge. Most date rape drugs can't be smelled or tasted so you'd never know the difference.
-Tell everyone you can where you are going, at what time, and when you plan on returning. This way, they know if something went wrong and have an area to start looking for you.
Overall, if you feel you should do something to protect yourself, do it. Don't tell yourself you're overreacting because all you are doing is keeping yourself safe.
Q: What are some warning signs that this person isn't who they say they are?
A: If they insist on taking you home themselves, become overly interested in personal information(where you live, who you live with, phone number, birthday, etc etc), or start getting touchy feeling, GET OUT! Especially do so if you have a gut feeling that something is wrong or that you are uncomfortable because this means that there is something wrong. Find a way out as quickly as possible and make sure you aren't, while leaving, caught any place alone.
Q: I broke it off with someone after getting a funny feeling, but they still are contacting me. What should I do?
A: If they are contacting you online, block them from your messengers, e-mail, and discuss the problem with the support staff of whatever sites you go on together. Harassment is illegal, online or off, so the support staff on these sites will most likely ban him/her from using their site. if they are contacting you offline, through phone, letters, or even coming to your home or the homes of friends, GO TO THE POLICE! No one is better equipped to handle this situation than them. Don't think ignoring the person will cause the problem to go away because if they are determined, they will keep it up.
Online Dating: The Final Point
In most cases, online dating is not the solution to real life problems. Its less likely you'll find your Prince Charming at the age of 15 from an online site, so simply don't bother. Not only is online dating less likely to give a solution, but it is dangerous. Don't date online until you are over the age of 18 and mature enough to make intelligent decisions in regards to this.