Technology has revolutionised the way we live our lives. Not only has it modernised the way we work, shop and have fun, but also how we date and fall in love. Long gone are the days of having to strike up relationships in the “real world”, as finding Mister or Missus Right (or Right Now) has become as simple as creating a profile on a dating app and getting somewhat of a thumb workout. But, while online dating is a convenient way of meeting new people and possibly finding lasting love, it’s essential to consider the risks, to safely date online in South Africa.

The ugly truth about online dating: making good first impressions

Online dating is becoming more and more popular, probably because most dating platforms have some sort of functionality that allows users to match with people that meet a specific set of criteria improving the chances of attraction or compatibility. Unfortunately, there aren’t any guarantees, and many people are dishonest.

To give us the best possible chance to attract someone and land a date, we may be tempted to twist the truth, even just a little. From the pictures we upload to the way we describe ourselves; we all want to make the most of our online profile to stand out in a virtual crowd. According to a recent survey on online dating behaviours conducted by research firm B2B and Kaspersky Lab, 31% of South Africans have online dating profiles, and up to 62% have admitted to lying while dating online. The research shows that online daters use misleading photos or are dishonest about their age, marital status, profession and relationship goals.

But, being too honest can pose problems as well. An alarming number of users publicly share potentially sensitive personal information without giving a second thought about the potential dangers. Some online daters go as far as sharing their full home address, details about their workplace, photos of family or friends and even intimate images. Not to mention, once the chatting starts and walls come down, the chances are good that more information is exchanged. This gives someone with bad intentions quite a bit to Google and piece together.

A date with danger: A closer look at online dating risks and scams in South Africa

Not that we would take dating advice from our parents, but it turns out that warnings from our childhood about speaking to strangers still holds value in the digital age. Of course, chatting and meeting on apps have innocuous drawbacks such as awkward meetups and the possibility of rejection. But, 55% of users have experienced dangerous behaviours and other dangers while dating online. Choma, an interactive online magazine aimed at South African girls and women, warns of the following prominent online dating risks:

Online scams: There have been many stories of people falling victim to online scams (phishing or identity theft), such as a fake email from an online platform asking you to share additional sensitive information. Even if you think there is a level of trust that’s built up over time (some scammers are very patient) never share personal details like your ID number, bank details or home address. There are also instances of people wanting to only have an online relationship, with no intention of meeting in real life and request explicit images or financial bailouts.

Malware, spyware and hacking: Just downloading and browsing on a dating app can leave users vulnerable to cybercriminals. In addition to many dating apps requiring some personal information to set up your profile, they also often need access to your smartphone’s location, camera and microphone.

Human trafficking: Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s almost always risky business to meet up with a stranger. Especially when human traffickers often use online platforms to bait their victims. Common tactics include creating fake job ads, auditions for modelling campaigns and even fake relationships.

Sexual assault: South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world, and perpetrators often use online social or dating platforms to find their next victim. Your first meet up with someone you interacted with online should never be alone at their house.

“The digital age has certainly challenged lawmakers to evolve with the times. And, in South Africa, they are heading in the right direction with the likes of the Cybercrimes and Cyber Security Bill, the Prevention of Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill,” says Ane van Zyl, a legal adviser at multi-award-winning, legal services provider LAW FOR ALL.

In 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Films and Publications Amendment Act that made revenge porn illegal in South Africa into law. What’s more reputable dating apps are constantly taking the necessary steps to make their platforms safer for users. Dating sites that are members of the Online Dating Association (ODA) have to commit to an industry code of practice that includes honest communication with users, protecting their privacy and providing a mechanism for reporting abuse. “Of course, should you fall victim to any kind of harmful behaviour, you should speak to a caring lawyer for guidance and advice to navigate the situation” explains Van Zyl.

Always use protection – Top tips to safely date in South Africa

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom! It’s possible to enjoy and make the most of online dating in South Africa, but it’s all about knowing what the potential risks are so that you are empowered to guard your heart and safely interact with people online. Here are some tips and guidelines, courtesy of Good Housekeeping:

  1. Make sure the app or platform you are using is well-known and has a good reputation.
  2. Check the app or platform’s terms and conditions so that you know exactly what information it will require from you before you start “meeting” people.
  3. Double-check the location settings and what permissions you are granting for the use of your smartphone’s camera and microphone.
  4. Use strong passwords and update your anti-virus software.
  5. Do not share any sensitive personal information.
  6. Think twice about sharing explicit images of yourself.
  7. Do some light investigation and use the profile info of the other person to do some online research. For example, a quick reverse image search could help you authenticate someone’s identity.
  8. If all online communication goes well and you decide to meet in person, always meet in public, use your own transport and let a close friend know where you are, who you are meeting and when you get back home safely.
  9. Always flag and report a user who violates a platform’s Ts&Cs.
  10. Be cautious of people that avoid meeting in person and don’t transfer money to anyone you haven’t met.

We’ve got your back!

LAW FOR ALL’s multi-award-winning team has got your back! Our caring lawyers can provide legal advice and guidance on matters relating to identity theft, being “catfished”, phishing scams and being hacked. Be sure to have a look at LAW FOR ALL’s comprehensive policies. Sign up today!