How to stay safe in online relationships

Graphic shows a young person in an online relationship. They are holding a phone with a person's face on it and the text above reads "dating app"

How do I stay safe when having relationships online?

Whether you’re looking for a romantic relationship or a friendship, the internet can connect us with people all over the world at anytime and anywhere.

While there are many success stories of people starting relationships online through online communities, social media, gaming platforms, or dating apps such as Tinder, Grindr, or Bumble, there are people who misuse the internet and pretend to be someone they’re not.

It’s important to be aware of this as well as other risks. Our Community Manager Aife has put together some tips to help you have safe relationships online. 

Use a website or app that is well known  

If you’re wondering how to safely online date, make sure to use a website or app that is well known. There are lots of websites and apps out there, and some aren’t moderated to the same standard as others. You want to use a site that has a strong focus on online safety and takes action against profiles that aren’t safe to be on there. Take some time to read reviews online on the app store, or a website such as Trust Pilot, and choose a site that feels comfortable to use. 

Make sure the person you’re taking to is who they say they are 

Catfishing is when someone creates a fake identity online to trick people who are looking for friendships or romantic relationships. It’s not always easy to identify when someone is catfishing, particularly if they’ve spent some time building a relationship with you. Look out for red flags such as if they ask you for money, put pressure on you to share nudes or never show their face in photos or on a video call. These are all signs that they could be catfishing.  

It’s ok to search for someone’s social media profile to see if the information they have shared with you adds up. Google can be a great tool to use to search for someone’s full name and find out if they have a criminal record. You can also drag and drop someone’s photo into the search box to find out if the photo belongs to someone else. Many websites and apps also have the option for someone to verify themselves.  

What personal information should I share? 

When you begin to form a new relationship online, it’s natural to want to share personal information about yourself. Try and keep details such as where you live, your school, university or phone number private. As soon as you share your phone number, your social media accounts become easier to find and this could reveal more information about you such as your location, family and friends. You can read more about how to stay safe online in our article.  

How can I stay safe when meeting offline for the first time? 

Arrange a video call – Try to arrange a video call to make sure that the person you’re talking to is who they say they are. This adds a layer of safety and if things don’t feel right, you can always end the call at any time.  

Arrange to meet in a public place – Always meet in a public place so that other people are around to help you. If you’re feeling anxious, bring a friend along or arrange a double date.  

Always tell someone where you’re going – It’s important someone knows where you are in case anything goes wrong. If you have WhatsApp, you can share your location with someone. 

Speak to someone if you begin to feel unsafe – Meeting in a public place means that other people are around to help you. You’re not alone and there will always be someone you can reach out to. 

Call 999 – If you’re in danger, call 999 as soon as possible. If you’re in a situation where you can’t speak out loud, you can call the police discreetly by calling 999 and pressing 55.  

Learn how to quickly call emergency services from your smartphoneIf you have an iPhone, you can also use Emergency SOS  to call emergency services by tapping the side button five times. If you own an Android device, you can also set this up too.   

What are some red flags I should be aware of? 

Your mum might be asking you, ‘but is online dating safe?’ Luckily, there are warning signs to look out for in online relationships. Red flags aren’t always easy to identify, but being aware of them can help you recognise how to safely online date and how to spot when a friendship or relationship is becoming unsafe. 

Someone trying to communicate with you off the website or app quickly – Keep communications within the platform until you feel comfortable to move it off. If anything feels unsafe, you can report it to the platform directly. If you’re unsure how to report something, Report Harmful Content has more information about the reporting options on each platform. 

If they ask you for money – People may pretend to be someone they are not to get money from you. They will invest a lot of time getting to know you to build up trust before asking, so be careful. 

Sexual pressure or objectifying – If someone is putting a lot of pressure on you to do something you’re not comfortable with, such as sending selfies or nudes, or they’re sending you unsolicited nude photos or videos, this is a red flag.  

They won’t share pictures of themselves – Whilst they may not feel comfortable sharing photos of themselves early in the relationship, it does start to become a red flag and they may be catfishing if they make excuses not to show their face on a video call. 

More support for online relationships

  • Need help reporting harmful content? Get guidance online on how to report harmful content. 
  • Internet Watch Foundation helps stop online sexual abuse. Use their reporting form on their website or phone 01223 20 30 30 for support. 
  • You can talk to Childline about anything. Call them for free on 0800 1111 or visit their website. 
  • If you’re worried about your relationship, find support and advice through Your Best Friend.

Next Steps

  • Relate is an affordable relationship and sex counselling service. 0300 100 1234
  • Women's aid protects women from domestic violence. Call their 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.
  • Call the Sexual Violence Alliance on 01603 667687 for support and advice for women and men who are victims of sexual or domestic violence.
  • Refuge offers advice and support to victims of domestic violence. 0808 2000 247
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Aife Walsh

Updated on 12-Apr-2022

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