Internet dating can lead to love, but it is also dangerous ground.
In January 2011, Las Vegas resident Mary Kay Beckman was stabbed 10 times outside her home by a man she met online and dated briefly. Beckman survived the attack and is suing match.com for $9.9 million, saying the website did not disclose the danger of meeting strangers online.
Relationships initially formed online are especially dangerous because profiles can be falsified, said officer Laura Meltzer of the Metropolitan Police Department.
"Realistically, you do not know who it is you're talking to online," she said. "It's the most basic thing I tell people."
Meltzer's case is extreme but should serve as a cautionary tale. Personal information should remain personal during online exchanges.
Ashley Martinez, outreach coordinator at The Rape Crisis Center, 6375 W. Charleston Blvd., Suite 149B, said people should "be cautious not to trust anybody" they meet online.
"People, I think, trust too much," Martinez said. "... You can know someone for six months online, and think you know them, and you don't. It comes down to face-to-face-interactions. From there, you can start building."
Martinez and Meltzer had several safety tips for the first in-person meeting.
The meeting should be in a populated, public place, such as a coffee shop. Martinez and Meltzer suggested bringing a friend or going with a group to be even safer. You should drive to and from the meeting and keep your home address private. Tell a friend or family member of your plans.
Martinez recommended a smartphone app, Circle of 6, that can send a distress message and your location to six friends with the push of a button. Also, The Rape Crisis Center has a 24-hour hot line at 702-366-1640.
Finally, stay sober. If you go to a bar, always get your own drink and keep it with you. Martinez said never accept an open drink from anyone because it could be drugged. Two-thirds of the cases that the center handles deal with date rape, Martinez said.
Precautions should be taken whether the date is arranged online or the old-fashioned way, Meltzer said.
"There are no 100 percent guaranteed safeguards," Meltzer said. "Use due diligence and caution when you're dealing with strangers. Listen to your instincts."
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5524.