I was in my living room one day last fall, chatting with a friend online. All of a sudden, a message pops up from someone who I don't recognize. Strange, I think - I haven't given this IM out to anyone in a while. I open the message, and it's a guy who says we met at an online dating site. Okay - maybe it was a while ago and he's just getting around to contacting me. We chatted briefly and then I ended the conversation. I never added him to my contacts, and I never approved being added to his.
A couple of days later, something similar happened; but with a different person. Then again - and then again. Finally, I ask one of them how he got my IM. His answer? "It was on your profile, silly!"
With help from a guy friend who also had a profile on the same site, I found I had two profiles on this website - one that I had created, and one that I had not. The impostor profile used a nearly-identical user name, and was nearly accurate. Some of the facts were adjusted; it showed me as being a couple of years younger, with a two-year (instead of four) degree and it listed me as a Gemini, which is close, but not quite right. It displayed a picture I had once used on my real profile. And it did, in fact, display my IM/Email address prominently in the "About Me" section.
It did teach me several valuable lessons about meeting people online. Interested? Here they are, in no particular order.
~ Clean up your facebook profile, paying special attention to the contact information you're sharing. No matter how secure you think your profile is, the information you display is easily accessible - which makes it easily shared. I don't care how many hours you spent clicking all 80+ privacy settings - it's still the internet.
~ Establish an IM/Email address that is not easily associated with you. Use that consistently when you share contact info with someone you meet online. Then you'll know for certain to whom you gave your contact information, and who might have gotten it somewhere else.
~ Google yourself. I know, it sounds so ego-centric [and a little creepy] but knowledge is power. Other people are doing the same thing, especially new people whom you've just met. You need to know what they're seeing, and you need to know what information is out there that you didn't share.
~ Search dating sites for yourself. I have girlfriends with online profiles who have told me that they routinely search the other female profiles to "check out the competition." I can honestly say that never occurred to me. I did start searching the female profiles after the impostor profile was removed - to make sure it never showed up again.
Come to think of it - this might be good advice no matter how you're meeting potential dates.