First off, let me start by saying I used to always give people the benefit of the doubt. But, after finding out my latest infatuation was really married (and keeping it secret!), I became more cautious. Be a skeptic online, and here’s some tips that can help you avoid the problems I had:
The red flags to look for include:
a) Drug, Alcohol or Smoking Habits: Any of these can be relationship disasters, you should carefully evaluate whether or not you want the chaos that can go with someone who has a substance problem. Usually, it’s better to find someone else.
How to tell? There are usually symptoms that you can detect: unexplained absences, excuses, missing money, they take too much time off from work or are “sick” frequently as an excuse, there may even be obvious signs like alcohol, smoke or drug materials around their living space (though they typically hide these things). Mood changes, abrupt “nice person/person from hell” switches are a big red flag, eg one day they’re nice, other days, they act withdrawn, resentful or angry.
b) Evasiveness, not providing phone number after a reasonable timeframe.Some people may just want to keep the relationship on the internet, that’s fine as long as they tell you this upfront. Openness is important. Otherwise, you may be communicated with a married person or somebody with children that they haven’t told you about.
c) Appearance different from what you expected. For some reason, people online frequently use outdated 5-year old photos, or may even use somebody else’s photo, to misrepresent their appearance. It’s bad to use a photo of yourself without the wrinkles and extra pounds that were added in recent years!
One of the first things you should ask for via email is a recent photo that’s been taken in the last year. If you are thinking of meeting someone from out of state/country, you may want to request that they fax you a copy of their current drivers’ license (with address obscured) to verify their age and appearance.
d) Unemployed people looking for support Realize that there’s a lot of people who need a meal ticket, and can try to exploit you and use you to support them. Whether they want you to fall in love with them and have them move in with you (for free rent) or obvious ploys like “emergencies” that they want your money for, avoid these people at all costs. Because it you don’t, it will cost you.
These are not likely to be homeless grubby people, instead, they are likely to be well educated and smart, with access to a pc, yet, they may well be almost broke (or close to it, living off credit cards).
How to deal with it? I ask people what they’re currently doing for a living, and also subtly tell people upfront that I believe nobody should need to give money or housing to another person for the first year or so they’re in a relationship. This is plenty of time to evaluate their character (or lack thereof!).
d) Married people, or those already in relationships Many married guys go online looking for excitement, to find mistresses. Don’t become the “other woman” in somebody’s marriage (or guys, become that second boyfriend in your girls’ life). You should, after a few emails, ask who else is in there life, if they’re living alone or not, and when their last relationship ended.
Once you exchange phone numbers, you should be able to call him or her at home at, say, 9pm at night, without always getting an answering machine. Be especially suspicious if they try to offer an excuse for not giving you their home phone number ( again, after you’ve corresponded online for ahwile and are ready to talk, don’t rush). What’s to hide?
e) Working girls/pros, con men, ex-cons and others It’s a great idea to talk casually with a few of your city’s local police officers to ask their advice about avoiding trouble online. Be a skeptic, and don’t give out personal info, your phone number, place of employment, or other identifying information, until you feel this person is trustworthy. Most are not.