The horrific murder of Kenyan socialite Starlet Wahu has been a sad reminder of the dangers that lurk online.
Her suspected killer, John Matara, reportedly met her through a dating site, which they used to converse before meeting up; the meet-up that would lead to her death.
Following Starlet’s unfortunate demise, more victims have come out to recount their tales of abuse and robbery by the same suspect.
In the wake of the ongoing case, we look into tips for staying safe while online dating.
With the increased popularity of online dating as one of the ways to find love, it is crucial that people stay cautious and take into consideration various safety measures.
Meet in public, stay in public
Don’t meet a stranger at their house, and don’t invite them to yours either. Avoid going to lodgings, hotel rooms, Air BnBs or even isolated offices for your first dates.
There are low-risk dates that you can go on instead, such as meeting at a coffee shop, taking a walk, having a picnic or going to the movies.
Do not fully expose your identity
Avoid using pictures that are on your social media accounts, as those can easily get reverse searched.
A stranger knowing about your lifestyle, possible address and close associates puts you at risk of opportunistic perpetrators. Say, for example, that you are well to do- they will see it through your Instagram posts. After all, most people only portray good things about their lives.
Watch out for red flags
There are online dating users that should automatically set off alarm signals in our minds.
Look out for inconsistent stories about their life, moving too fast in the connection- perhaps through ‘love-bombing’, asking for financial assistance in any way and mismatching personality traits- e.g. says they are highly educated but has lots of grammatical errors or disjointed language in their texts/emails.
Consider blocking or un-matching anyone who does not respect your boundaries or constantly pressures you to do things you are not comfortable with.
Do your research
You meet someone online, like them and think they may be the real deal. One of the first steps to take is to find out as much information as you can about them, that could help you confirm they are of good character.
Google them, their place of work (or previous places of work) and any other details they may have already offered; and check out their social media profiles. The goal is to confirm that they are being truthful about their identity, and to see that no disturbing information pops up.
When meeting them, tell someone and share your location
Take a screenshot of your date’s profile and send it to a friend. Let at least one friend know where and when you plan to go on your date. If you continue your date in another place you hadn’t planned on, text a friend to update them on your new location.
Consider planning a “safe call”: arrange for a friend to call you during the date to make sure you feel comfortable.
Don’t rely on your date for transportation
Ensure you have enough money to get you to and from your date, and even enough for paying a restaurant bill just in case things go wrong.
You don’t want to have a stranger be in control of when and how you get home, for your own good.
Even if the person you're meeting volunteers to pick you up, avoid getting into a vehicle with someone you don’t know and trust, especially within the first few meetings.
Trust your instincts
Should any of your online friend/ date’s stories not add up- cut them off. If you feel uncomfortable in any way, listen to your gut.
Sources: Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), Edmonton Police Service, Safewise, Everlywell