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Dating app dangers: Authorities remind young adults to exercise caution

ST. LOUIS – Dating sites can bring together people, but they can also be used as a tool to prey on unsuspecting victims.

Before you swipe right, authorities are reminding the public to exercise common sense and trust their instincts.

Maryland Heights Police Department Detective Kendra House has investigated several cases involving sexual assaults; many of those cases involve an initial correspondence online.

“In the last couple of months, I’ve had four cases that have involved social media, where something bad happened to a female because of social media,” she said. “They have sexually assaulted these women, stolen from them. Just hurt them in other ways.”

Be it Facebook, Tinder, Instagram, Snapchat, or another popular app, young adults in particular are turning to online apps to find companionship.

The Pew Research Center reports that nearly one in three (27%) of 18-24-year-olds use online dating. The number has almost tripled from 10% in 2013.

House said many victims fall in that age group – young adults just getting out of college.

“Early 20s, late 20s. When you’re getting finished with school, getting out into the world, looking for jobs and things like that, and looking for companionship. You feel like the world is idyllic and, unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in anymore. It’s sad, but it’s true,” she said.

Online dating sites remind users to exercise caution with online dating.

House said it is critical men and women take safety seriously. Among the key pieces of advice:

• do not disclose your work or home address
• never provide personal information
• always meet at public location
• leave a date when things appear to be strange or unusual

“If you’re not comfortable and you don’t know how to walk out the door, then excuse yourself and go to the restroom, and then walk out the back door,” she said. “And if you feel like you don’t know how to get out of a situation, like you’re fearful, pick up the phone, go to the bathroom, call 911.”

She added that many people, particularly young women, are embarrassed about backing out of a date. Calling 911, she said, can save lives.

“We’ll be happy to come and get you out of that situation. We would rather that, than you a victim in the morning,” she said.