Meeting people online is fairly common, and often works out just fine for everyone involved. Still, there are risks when you get together in person with someone you’ve met online for the first time. Whether you’re on social media or on a dating app, safeguard yourself and your private information from would-be criminals. If you want to safely meet a person you met online, keep your first few meetings public and brief, and always have an escape route.

Talk before meeting. Before you meet someone in person who you’ve met online, you want to make sure they are who they’ve said they are. The best way to go about this is to have a phone call or live video chat with them.

In the early days of the internet, it was common advice to never meet someone in person that you’d only met online. These days, it’s much more common—but you should still take a few precautions. Before you head out to meet your date, set up your smartphone to share your location with your friends or family. Always tell at least one person where you are going. Go one step further and have a safety code system in place if you need to get out of there (both for if you feel uncomfortable, in danger, or basically anything that might warrant needing to leave.)  Text a friend a code word, and get them to call you with an ‘emergency‘ and rescue you from your date.

When meeting him or her for the first time be sure to choose a public location, where there are plenty of people around, such as a restaurant or cafe near a busy street. Only after you have gotten to know him well and feel safe around him should you invite him over dinner, etc. Also tell a friend or family member that you are meeting someone for the first time, where you’re meeting, and what his name is. Also give them his phone number if you have it.

Choose a place where you’re comfortable. You may not want to meet too close to home if you’re worried about the person knowing where you live. But at the same time, you don’t want to meet someone for the first time in an unfamiliar part of town.

  • Often you will feel more comfortable in a place where you’ve been several times, especially if you’re anxious about meeting this person for the first time.
  • Ideally, you still want a place that you don’t frequent often. If things don’t work out, you don’t want to risk running into that person again.
  • Try to meet during the day, if possible. If you’re both only available in the evening, choose a place that’s fairly busy at the time you’re planning to meet.

Avoid alcohol on your first meeting. For people of drinking age, it’s quite common to meet people at the local bar or pub. The problem is that alcohol can lower your inhibitions and cause you to lose control.

  • If you do decide to drink, order a single drink with a low alcohol content, such as a light beer, and some water. Sip slowly, alternating between the beer and the water.

Ask lots of questions. The point of meeting in person is to get to know each other better. Since the person might be more reserved in person than they were online, be prepared to ask questions to get them to open up.

  • Referring back to a conversation you had online can help make both of you more comfortable. You’ll be able to link the person in front of you to the conversations you had before.

Keep your first meeting brief. For your initial meet-up, find some place you can sit and talk for a half hour or so, but don’t plan on anything any longer than that. This way, if you find you’re not interested in the person, you don’t have to spend too much time with them.

Take personal belongings with you. If you have to excuse yourself at any point, such as to use the restroom, do not leave your purse or cell phone unattended with the person you’re meeting. Treat them as a stranger and don’t give them access to your private information.

  • Be extra-cautious if you have a drink. Inspect the drink for any tampering upon your return.

Plan another meeting. If the first meeting went well, plan a second, longer meeting rather than extending the first meeting. This way you’re continuing to take things slowly and you’re remaining in control of the situation.

Go with your gut. Even though things are going well and outwardly the person seems fine, you may have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Don’t ignore that feeling. If you feel like you’re not safe, get out of there as quickly as possible.

  • If you feel that you need to leave, do it – especially if you feel like your personal safety is in jeopardy. Go to the restroom and call a nearby friend to help you.
  • You also may be able to talk to someone who works at the place where you met. Explain the situation to them and they may be able to help you.

Have an escape route. Before you meet up with the person, have several options in mind that will enable you to get out of the situation quickly if anything happens. Rely on your own transportation as much as possible.

  • If you have your own car, drive to the meeting and park as close as you can. Don’t go anywhere else where the person could isolate you from your transportation.
  • Have a couple of options if you don’t have your own car or are relying on public transportation. For example, several taxi numbers or a friend who can pick you up.

Get a friend to call or text. Always make sure that several people know exactly where you’re going and when. Arrange for a friend to check in on you during the meeting so you can let them know if things aren’t going well.

  • Keep your phone on your person at all times, either with the ringer on or on vibrate so you won’t miss this text or call.
  • You also can get a friend to drop by and act as though the two of you just ran into each other.

Report threatening or dangerous behavior. If the meeting goes really bad, and the person turns out to be someone dangerous, report them to the local police as well as to the social media platform or dating app where you first connected.

  • If you report their behavior to the website or app, you may be able to get them banned.
  • You also have the option of blocking them so that they cannot see your profile or contact you again.

But above all enjoy the date and be safe, there are a lot of nice people out there so don’t be put off online dating just be cautious as people can hide their identity and not be who they say they are.