ONLINE RULES TO "LIVE" BY..........

As we all know, not every tale of an on-line meeting has a happy ending. To avoid becoming a statistic on the 11 o'clock news, use common sense and keep these precautionary measures in mind:

Be a skeptic. The Internet is a place where the old adage "don't believe everything you read" most definitely applies. People lie on-line just as they do in real life. Areas to be particularly cautious about: marital status and physical appearance. "Look at your own past experiences in meeting people," suggests Sharyn Wolf, author of Guerrilla Dating Tactics: Strategies, Tips and Secrets for Finding Romance (Plume/Penguin). "Have you generally had good judgement about people? If so, then you can rely on it here too. If not, proceed with caution, and perhaps turn to a friend to help you evaluate someone you've met on-line."

Use tools wisely. Use e-mail to get a sense of a person before you meet in the real world. "Begin to e-mail back and forth, and learn about the context this person operates in," suggests Wolf. "Where did he grow up? Where does she work? Who are his friends and family? How is she connected to the community in which she lives?" Learning about a person's connections with others is an important way to determine who they really are.

Use the phone. Don't go straight from e-mail to a real-world meeting. The phone reveals a lot about a person's social skills, and their ability to communicate spontaneously. But do it on your nickel; don't rush to give a stranger your phone number. Now that you're voice to voice, if not yet face to face, give yourself the opportunity to get a good feeling for what someone is like before you decide you'd like to meet.

Resist the hard sell. If you are getting pressured to get together, that's probably a good sign that this is a person you want to steer clear of. Continue to keep your antennae up. If, as you are getting to know each other, anything seems off, bow out gracefully.

Use common sense. When it is time to meet in the real world, use these hard and fast rules:

1. Don't give out your home or work address
2. Meet in a busy public place during daylight hours
3. Use your own transportation to and from the meeting
4. Tell a friend where and when you are going, (plus leave a note on your kitchen table with all the info) and check in when you get back.
5. There'll be plenty of time for moonlight walks later on!

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