Tips for Safe and Healthy Online Dating

You OK, Cupid? How to find love—not creeps—online.

 Two hearts symbol at the red computer key

[See Could You Be a Victim of Dating Violence?]

Set your expectations. What do you want to get out of all this? Are you looking to meet someone and build a serious relationship—even get married? More interested in a casual fling? Think about what you expect from online dating, and keep that in mind as you engage with possible matches, Bruen suggests. If you want something serious but your beau continually keeps his distance and avoids meeting up, that's a problem. "In some cases, that person is trying to prep you for a scam," Bruen says. "In other cases, it's just an unrealistic, insecure person who is never going to commit to you."

Trust your intuition. At the end of the day, online dating isn't that different from offline dating. There are creeps and spammers both on the Web and in real life, and there are good guys, too, Kaiser says. If something feels off, like the pacing, vibe, or language—it probably is. And if you feel like you're in trouble, you probably are. "If they're getting harassing texts, emails, or feel like someone is following them, they should seek help as soon as possible," Kaiser says. Most dating sites have some sort of "report abuse" function, which folks should definitely use if they feel they need to. Beyond that, remember that "stalking is serious and illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia," he says, so don't hesitate to contact the police.

Meet up safely. If you think you've found a good egg and the two of you want to meet up—great. Choose a public place and drive yourself, or plan your own transportation. Don't get stuck in a situation where you're relying on a virtual stranger to get you home. Tell friends where you're going and when you expect to be home, and even consider bringing someone along. A buddy could, say, wait at the bar while you start your date and wait for your signal before leaving. "There's no shame in protecting yourself, and no one should be embarrassed," Kaiser says. "If the date is a good, caring person, he'll say, 'Hey, smart for you.'"