There’s nothing inherently wrong with meeting someone online; more and more people are meeting that way each year. However, it’s important to know how to vet someone you have met online—it’s not as easy as with people you meet in person. Read these quick tips about how to know who you meet online.
1. Authenticate Their Social Media Profiles
The first-step when you meet someone online should be to authenticate their social media profiles. Essentially, you should be looking to confirm that the person you have met is the person depicted in the profile, and that the person depicted in the profile is a real person.
Start by combing over the social media profile where you met the individual. For instance, if you met them on Facebook, check to see how many friends they have. Someone with very few friends may just be new to Facebook, but often times its a red-flag that the owner of the profile could be suspicious. See how many photos they have posted to the account. Users with only one photo, a graphic instead of a photo, or no photo at all may have something to hide. If they do have photos of themselves, compare the photos to make sure that they are the same person from photo to photo. Check to see if they post to their timeline often, but more importantly, check to see if other people are posting on their timeline. Signs of a two-way conversation or other engagement with users can be an indication that the person is, in fact, real.
Try to find other social media platforms that the individual is using. Compare the profiles and come to a conclusion about whether or not the person is a fake. Once you have determined the user is a real person, use information gleaned from their social media profiles about the safest way to proceed.
When it comes to social media profiles, you are looking for substance. If there is a lack of substance or the profile seems otherwise shady—stay away.
Remember, successfully authenticating their social media accounts is only the first-step. You may have confirmed that they are who they say they are, but, like with any other stranger, it is still important to get the know them before giving them your trust.
2. Ask The Right Questions
Getting to know someone is hard, right? Knowing what to ask is important when meeting people in general, but especially so when meeting people online.
The traditional 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, and why) go a long way towards vetting someone you meet online:
Who are they? Not just their name, but ask them who are they as a person. What drives them? What to do they do? For a living, for fun, on Sunday afternoons, anything—personal questions are a good way to find out if a person is genuine. Where are they from? Do they live far away from their family and friends, or are they well integrated into their community? When did they move to the area? Why?
Asking smart questions, and paying close attention to their answers, can be extremely helpful when trying to understand if a given individual is genuine. Be intensely aware of any inconsistencies in their answers. Find clever ways to ask the same question with different phrasing—see if they are consistent and confident when talking about themselves during your conversations.
3. Choose the Safer Apps
One of the best ways to ensure safety while using social media online is to make sure that you are using the safer social media platforms. There are no social media outlets that are inherently unsafe, but there are certain features on some platforms that make them more attractive to wrongdoers.
Be aware of the privacy and security features of each social media platform you use. Anonymous messaging apps like Kik, among others, are a popular social media platform for predators. A good rule of thumb to follow: if the level of user anonymity is high on a particular social platform, it is more likely that individuals interested in remaining anonymous will use the platform.
Ever thought of talking to someone using FaceTime instead of messengers or phone calls? FaceTime allows you to see who you are talking to, confirm that they match their online profiles, and gives you the ability to read their facial expressions during your conversations. FaceTime, as a conversational app, lets the user interact with others more like they do in the real world. Try asking the person you have met online if they would like to use FaceTime, Skype, or another video streaming app instead of using messengers or phone calls.
4. Try Meeting People Who Live Locally
In an increasingly global society, physical geography plays a smaller and smaller role in the people we meet and interact with. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does make it harder to know if the people we are talking to are who they say they are. It is much easier when the person you’ve met online lives locally. Check to see if they like community gathering places, restaurants, and events in your area. See if they have photos taken locally—if they do, it’s more likely that they are real, and didn’t just pull the photos off of the internet.
Not only can it make vetting their social media easier, but it also gives you the option to meet-up in person at some point. This should be done safely, as we will discuss in tip number 5, but it is certainly one of the best tools to use when determining a given individual’s motives and whether their intentions are genuine or not.
5. Meet Somewhere Public and Bring a Friend
Most people already know that it is best to meet someone for the first time in a public place. Meeting up in a dark ally is bad—for obvious reasons. A public coffee house, restaurant, or otherwise busy establishment is a much better option. But still, there are a few things that you can do to make your meet even safer.
Consider bringing along a friend when you first meet someone. Ask them if they would be willing to bring a friend along as well—as a double date of sorts. If that isn’t an option, ask a friend if they would be willing to go with you early to the coffee shop or restaurant. Having a friend at a nearby table can make you feel more comfortable meeting a stranger. A friend can also monitor your exit from the establishment—as this is perhaps the most dangerous part of meeting someone in a public place. Once you have entered your vehicle and safely left, your friend’s job is done.
This may seem a bit extreme, and is not necessary in all situations, but it’s an easy and effective preventative measure. Bringing a friend along is a great idea—especially if you are meeting someone for the first time.