Be cautious when combining dating apps and travel.

When Stella Gilbert made the choice to invest a number of months in Prague, the Boston-based college student was aware that she would use dating applications to meet other young people.

In addition to her roommate, Gilbert employed apps such as Hinge and Tinder to organize dates with locals, students, and travelers in Prague and other locations in Europe. Concerned about safety, the pair derived strength in numbers, choosing to “double date” with the intention of forming friendships abroad. They used code words in case one of them ever felt unsafe, met their dates in familiar public places, and devised a false hostel name in case any of their dates inquired about their whereabouts.

“It certainly made it simpler to be experiencing it together. And I believe, much safer,” Gilbert stated.

The dangers of meeting someone via a dating application can seem elevated when travelling. Navigating language obstacles, being separate from established social networks, and exploring unfamiliar territory can all predispose travelers to scams and potentially perilous encounters.

Recently, the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, cautioned travelers to remain watchful when making use of dating applications following eight suspicious deaths of U.S. citizens in Medellín in 2021. A statement from the embassy noted an increase in “incidents involving the use of online dating applications to lure victims, typically foreigners, for robbery by force or using sedatives to drug and rob individuals.” At the beginning of last year, the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, also cautioned U.S. travelers of robberies facilitated by dating applications.

Why dating applications can be hazardous

Various recent studies have indicated that dating applications can present significant risks to their users, no matter where they are located.

With limited vetting, catfishing and other frauds enable individuals to portray themselves falsely. Dating applications enable immediate interactions with a higher quantity of people than, for instance, a night at a bar, which can mean more opportunities to come across malicious actors.

“We’ve found it’s just kind of open hunting grounds,” said Julie Valentine, a pioneering forensic nurse, certified sexual assault nurse examiner, and scholar studying sexual and gender-based violence at the University of Utah.

A recent study she conducted compared app-facilitated sexual assault to instances of sexual assault committed by acquaintances, commonly known as date rape. The study uncovered app-facilitated assaults with more frequent occurrences of force and physical injuries, as well as higher rates of assault against vulnerable groups such as people with self-reported mental illness and gay men.

Valentine and other experts concur that it’s essential to proceed cautiously with dating applications irrespective of where they’re utilized.

“The truth is, any additional precautions you take abroad should also be taken in the U.S.,” stated Blaine Anderson, a professional dating consultant.

Anderson emphasizes any stranger may be “a potentially risky person,” but she has also used dating applications in 24 different countries. Dating applications can still be an outstanding way to meet people while traveling, specifically as the boundaries between social life in-person and online become increasingly blurred.

Numerous dating specialists concur that the responsibility of safety should not chiefly rest on dating app users and those at risk. Valentine, for instance, was cautious to “add to the list of safety guidelines,” asserting that doing so can lead to victim-blaming.

These added measures can be especially burdensome on women, who frequently face more risk when using dating applications than their male counterparts.

However, taking additional safety measures can help alleviate some dating risk.

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