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2. Nerds are doing it. So are beautiful people. Book lovers. Music fanatics. Over 50s. Under 30s. Professionals. Farmers. Tattoo enthusiasts. Those who like a man, or a woman, in uniform. Whatever your age, interests, location or outlook on relationships, theres an online dating site for you. Theres also plenty to know, even before you upload your perfect profile picture... Happily ever... 3. Be Safe Online Digital Dating www.avg.com2 F or every story of internet dating gone wrong theres an equally funny, poignant, uplifting or even inspirational tale. Its not for everyone but, then again, millions of people are looking for love online every day. So how do you decide whether or not to give it a try? Or where to begin? Well, given there are thousands of different digital dating sites - many with dozens of sub-groups for people with similar interests - theres plenty of scope for checking it out before signing up. Thats not to say anyone should throw caution to the keyboard and dive in with no inhibitions. There are simple, basic safeguards to take when seeking love, or even just friendly relationships, on the internet. Its not just other daters to be aware of: even some well-known sites have been accused of promoting themselves and their matchmaking success rates in less than honest terms. Regardless of whether youre something of a digital dating expert or if youd never before imagined creating a personal profile, read on for tips on where to go - or steer clear of - and what to do when you get there. IntroductionMaybe friends have suggested you try online dating, or youve been curious but sceptical: Is it full of scammers or weirdos? A waste of time and money? Will I look desperate? Judy Bitterli is a Senior Vice President at AVG. She blogs about online experiences at 4. O nce upon a time, first dates were about getting to know someone before deciding if a second date was in order - until the internet intervened. Now your date is likely to know the basics about you, and possibly a good deal more, well ahead of meeting in person. Even those who are introduced offline will probably still do a little background snooping via Google. So is online dating for you? Start with a simple search and see where it leads. Youll soon get a feel for the types of sites that are in sync with your ambitions, and those that dont feel right. Once youve narrowed down the sites you would consider signing up for, look for any articles, blog posts or social commentary that illustrate other users experiences or any problems, such as privacy concerns, associated with the sites. As with anything, its usually the shocking or disturbing stories that make news, not the boring anecdotes or reports of happily matched couples. Try not to get discouraged, but take your time to decide which sites seem the most suitable. Its estimated at least 40 million Americans have tried internet dating, with more joining dating sites every day. If nothing else, online dating is great practice for anyone who is a little rusty, doesnt like standard pick-up joints or prefers to be more selective about who they go out with. Theres no harm in trying, even if you later decide its preferable meeting people the old-fashioned way. New here?Dating just isnt what it used to be. Once upon a time, first dates were about getting to know someone before deciding if a second date was in order - until the internet intervened. Be Safe Online Digital Dating 3 Theres no harm in trying, even if you later decide its preferable meeting people the old-fashioned way. 5. Is a rigorous screening process that blocks married people and convicted criminals important, or do you trust your own instincts? Do you want a quick match, such as through an app that shows dates nearby, or do you prefer to go slow and consider your options? Some dating sites charge a fee, others dont, but either way youll be paying somehow when you sign up. Personal information is valuable to websites, and the more details users give away the more profitable it is for the sites. Why? They sell data on to other advertisers or third parties, such as data aggregator sites, or direct you to websites they partner with. Any content you share - from your interests to your photos - becomes the property of that site, and you lose the rights to control how its used. That means your picture could pop up as a Date Of The Week promotion, so be prepared for anyone to see it. Also be aware that pictures you post may appear on photo identification services such as Google Image Search. Dont want your boss to find your profile on Tattoo Dont use the same picture thats on your LinkedIn account. Creating a profile requires at least as much consideration as where to place it. Everyone wants to put their best face forward, which often means fudging about height or weight, using a misleading photo, or trying to look more successful or likeable. Its human nature, and youre probably as guilty of it as the next person. The great thing is, with internet dating you can be as choosy or open-minded as you want and no one else has to know. First upFree sites with millions of users. Niche sites for people just like you. Memberships, no-cost browsing, apps - how do you choose? Be Safe Online Digital Dating 4 6. Niche sites Uniform Dating Have the hots for firefighters? Nurses float your boat? Military personnel make you stand to attention? Or are you a uniformed worker just looking for some love and understanding? Either way, this sites for you. ALikeWise A popular site where book lovers meet to get under the covers. Of their best-loved books, of course. Passions Network The site for people with a passion for, well, just about anything: weather, mimes, mustaches, ninjas, robotics - if you have a slightly unusual interest or hobby, your like-minded opposite number is here. Tastebuds Theres nothing worse than falling for someone, only to discover theyre a Lite Rock fan while youre a devoted punk. Tastebuds is good for those who like to mirror their own tastes, but could be limiting. Date My Pet Its motto, Date me. Date my pet. says it all. The Atlasphere More than just a dating site for people who appreciate a certain genera, The Atlasphere is the lifestyle website of choice for devotees of the early 20th Century Russian-American author Ayn Rand. Be Safe Online Digital Dating www.avg.com5 The Atlasphere 7. They spout percentages and numbers, throw around words such as algorithms and chemistry tests and are fronted by affable, wise-looking medical types who are coy about their techniques while guaranteeing results. Its impossible to know whether these claims are legitimate since they cant be independently verified - and thats why sceptics say dating sites cant live up to their promises. Then theres the anecdotal evidence. Some sites have faced criticism for creating fake profiles to lure singles into buying a membership. Other users complain of receiving dozens of messages on a sites free service, only to have the volume diminish after theyve paid the membership fee. Critics say its not profitable to create happy couples, and therefore singles might be directed to inappropriate matches. And while sites boast of millions of users, many of those might not be actively maintaining a profile. Some sites, including eHarmony, say their methodical selection process weighs up things such as emotional temperament, intellect, physicality, values and beliefs - what eHarmony founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren calls the 29 Dimensions of Compatibility. The site doesnt disclose how it achieves it, but claims that the vows exchanged between 438 Americans each day, or 4 percent of new U.S. marriages in 2012, were the result of its efforts. You cant argue with a blissfully married couple who found each other online, and surely plenty of people do. But dont put too much stock in dating sites seemingly exaggerated claims. Secret formulaIf you believe the hype, some dating websites methods are as scientifically evidence-based as, say, the Food and Drug Administrations stance on smoking. Be Safe Online Digital Dating 6 Some sites have faced criticism for so-called ghost profiles, or fake members used to lure singles into buying a membership 8. I f youre just getting used to the idea of meeting potential dates in a digital sphere, you may not want to jump into mobile dating. But finding someone who is available and nearby is possible through a number of mobile applications that can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet. Wanting to grab a coffee but hoping for more company than your newspaper can offer you? Apps such as Twoo, Tinder or dozens more can help you connect almost instantly. On the other end of the spectrum, theres virtual dating, where individuals create avatars on websites such as Weopia, OmniDate and Date My Avi, and go on cyber dates before deciding whether to exchange details or meet in real life. Video dating has taken off as more people use video-link communication through Skype and FaceTime. Could feel a little stilted, but its the next best thing to meeting for drinks. If youve got money to spend but lack time, confidence or a knack for writing a profile that does you justice, you can hire dating assistants to do everything from create and maintain your profile to sifting through potential matches and setting up dates on your behalf. You only have to show up and report back - just be sure to get your story straight so your date doesnt discover theres a middleman. Finally, in a nod to the matchmaking agencies of yore, there are introduction sites, which leave it up to someone else to find compatible matches for you. Whats new?You could stick to well-known sites that are the digital version of personal ads. But with online dating, there are new options emerging all the time. Be Safe Online Digital Dating