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Tainted love: How to avoid predators when dating online

We're spending so much time behind screens hoping to meet that special someone that we may overlook obvious signs of danger.

PHOENIX — People are doing more and more things online, taking classes, ordering groceries and even looking for love. 

Although in that last endeavor, Valley police departments warn, you have to protect yourself, especially when you're feeling vulnerable or emotionally open to the idea of "finding someone."

Online platforms can be the perfect place for predators to take advantage of that optimism. With more and more people spending so much time behind screens, Tempe Police Detective Natalie Barella says, don't overlook obvious signs of danger.

"A lot of people are utilizing social media to meet people," she said.

Det. Barella says first and foremost, try to maintain some privacy.

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"The biggest thing is people just need to take a little more time when they meet someone online. Look for the red flags. I think one key thing, start with just by the first name," she suggested.

She said oftentimes people overshare, especially if they're excited about new love, but that could lead to safety hazards.

"A lot of times through the app, you can talk and chat through the app that may be a good way to protect your privacy by not actually giving someone your real phone number," she added.

Red flags include anxious people in a rush to meet in person, Det. Barella said. So take your time!

"Meet someplace in public where there's a lot of people and even letting a friend know, 'Hey, this is their name and your location," so if something happens they know where you are," she said.

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Det. Barella said you shouldn't be afraid to make recommendations on places to meet once you're comfortable with the person.

"Suggest doing some of these things. You may have common interests, whether it be going for a run in a public place or going to a sporting event, something of that nature, where it feels like a safer environment," Det. Barella said.

Overall, take your time and do screenings of your own on the very device you're searching social sites on. 

If you have a run-in with someone who won't take no for an answer, alert police and try to retain as much information as you can.

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