When you're meeting someone online, it's important to play it safe offline. We're always quick to remind children about stranger danger. Yet for some reason, we adults sometimes assume we're immune to it.
Here are seven tips for meeting people you encounter online:
Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't blindly trust someone you meet online just because the person included a picture, listed an address, or included any other information that "feels" personal. Take the information with a grain of salt -- it could be false information meant to lure you in.
Tell friends or family where you're going. Give any contact information for the person you are going to meet to a friend or family member. Also give them a ballpark idea of when you should be home.
Use the buddy system. You are much more vulnerable alone. If the meeting is arranged through an online dating website, you could turn the occasion into a double date. It will help break the ice and keep you safe -- a win-win.
Meet in a public place. Meet at a populated public place, preferably in an area that you know well. The person whom you're meeting shouldn't have any issues with meeting like this, unless they're agoraphobic (unlikely) or have something to hide (more likely).
Get your own ride. It's important to be in control of your own ride -- even if you take a taxi. Don't get into the online acquaintance's car. If you feel uncomfortable, keep an eye on whether you're being followed and don't drive straight home.
Keep your cell phone with you. Be sure to fully charge your cell phone and keep it with you at all times. Under extreme circumstances, you can use your phone to call for help or photograph a suspect. Equally important, the GPS tracking can help determine your whereabouts.
Listen to your gut. Remember, if something doesn't feel quite right, trust your instincts. Cancel the meeting and be on your way.
For more practical tips, check out FindLaw's comprehensive section on Online Safety.