Online dating has been around for years. During its beginning, the target demographic was mainly busy, middle-aged people were seeking a love connection or friendship. However, in the past decade or so, the target demographic has become significantly younger. Now, the app-based online dating platforms target 20-something-year-olds, who have grown up during the digital age and may not completely understand the risks that come along with it.

An alarming rate of Millenials have used (or are currently using) an online dating app to meet people. For many, it’s been successful. However, for others, it’s been deadly. In fact, serial killers have admitted to using Tinder to meet their victims. That isn’t to say that all Tinder matches will wind up in peril, but it does tell the cautionary tale of the dangers of meeting strangers that you’ve met online.

With any online activity, protecting your privacy and diminishing risk is imperative. However, with online daters getting younger, do they really know their risks?

As a rule of thumb, there are five general rules and practices you can set in place to ensure safe online activity:

Only Use If You Are Above 18

The majority of online dating apps demand that users are 18 or older. If you’re under 18, the app will block you from use. Because this safety feature was easy to override by lying about your age, Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble began connecting to Facebook. These apps will read your Facebook profile to determine your age.

However, this isn’t a fool-proof method, and it still is easy to get around if the user is determined. It’s important to note that these features are in place for a good reason, and ultimately, to protect the USER!

If you are under 18 years old, put online dating on the back burner and pick it up when you’re of legal age.

Limit the Information You Give Out

Your personal information is classified! The majority of online dating profiles allow you to use just a first name or even a screen name. No personal data should be requested (ex. Address, phone number, etc.). If you’re chatting with someone that you have met online, keep this information close to you! Do not give away classified information that could put you in danger.

Do Not Meet Privately

Do not meet anybody that you meet online privately. If you’re going on a first date, consider bringing a friend or meeting in a highly-trafficked area (ex. A mall). Before you meet, tell your family and friends where you’re going to meet them and what time they should expect to hear from you. Take all of the necessary precautions when meeting somebody that you’ve met online.

Do Not Get In A Vehicle With Them

Many gentlemen will offer to pick you up; however, it’s best to meet your date at the restaurant or coffee shop that you’ve decided to go to for your first date. By being in the vehicle with somebody, you’re putting yourself at their mercy. Thank them for the offer and drive yourself to your date destination.

Wherever you plan to do, ensure it isn’t an isolated location. Avoid dark parking lots, walking paths and parkades. Meet them in a busy area.

No Sexting

Unfortunately, it’s essential to caution Millenials of this – because many have fallen victim to poor online decisions or X-rated use of their mobile phones. Many people have sent explicit text messages or nude photos to a stranger that they have met online. This is a vulnerable and dangerous situation to put yourself in!

These tips are great for online dating, and also apply to online social media platforms—for example, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Be very intentional with every bit of information you put on the web.

Ultimately, the people you meet on an online dating app or a social media platform is a STRANGER. Above all, you have to ensure your own safety. Be mindful of your actions and don’t be too trusting! Anybody that you meet will be respectful of the boundaries that you have put into place.