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Playing it Safe Online
by Linda J Alexander

The Internet has become the hot new place for smart, eligible people to find romance, and those looking for love are swarming into cyberspace.

As a result, many individuals have begun relationships online with people they have not met and know little about.

With so many people communicating via the Net and deciding to date virtual strangers, it is important to be safe and be smart.

Common sense can go a long way to keep you safe. Here are some guidelines for playing it safe:

Watch out for someone who seems too good to be true. Begin by first communicating solely by email or online chat. Be vigilant in noticing odd behavior or inconsistencies. If someone is evasive, this is a red flag.

"Listen" to your correspondent's words. The person at the other end may not be who or what he/she says.

Trust your instincts. If anything makes you uncomfortable, walk away for your own safety and protection

Find out as much information as you can. Learn to ask many questions. Find out where he grew up, where she works, and how he is connected to his community.

These are clues to finding out who this person really is. Be suspicious, if someone is unwilling to reveal any personal identifying information.

Probe any discrepancies in their stories. If your correspondent is unwilling to answer your questions, this is another red flag. Continue with a great deal of caution.

Honesty is the key to success.

Talk on the telephone and continue to learn more about your correspondent. A phone call can reveal a lot about a person's communication and social skills.

It is worth the cost of the call to protect your security. But do not give out your phone number to a stranger. Trust takes time to develop. Only when you feel completely comfortable should you furnish your phone number.

Don't rush into anything.

Meeting someone online and then arranging a date in a relatively short time can be dangerous. Take time to find out who this person really is.

If someone is pressuring you to get together before you are ready, this is another warning sign. If anything feels strange as you get to know this person, then it is time to back away and look for another match.

If you decide to meet for a date, proceed with caution. Arrange the meeting on your terms. The following is a guide to ensure that you have a safe encounter:

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