Because Internet dating is initially absent of verbal and nonverbal cues typically used to assess the credibility and trustworthiness of a prospective mate, it's possible to develop an inaccurate perception of a partner.

The following safety tips were formulated by Safer Online Dating Alliance:

Internet dating companies and meeting online

1. Use an online dating company that puts its members' safety above the "privacy" of other members.

2. Use an online dating company that conducts criminal background screenings. If your online dating company does not run criminal background screenings, have one done on your own, especially before meeting in person.

3. While your online dating company should do whatever it can to enhance member safety and security, your safety and security are your responsibility. You must be careful and think before you act.

4. Set up an e-mail account different from your personal one through a web-based e-mail service such as Yahoo, Google or Hotmail. Use an online name free from any sexual connotation, to avoid giving the impression you are interested in anything other than a meaningful, lasting relationship.

5. Do not advertise any identifying information: Common blunders are screen names and e-mail addresses that contain enough information to determine your identity.

6. Be careful what information you give out to reduce the possibility of being targeted by someone who might view you as naive, wealthy, inexperienced, vulnerable, etc. Never provide financial information, including your Social Security number, to anyone you meet online.

7. Do not post pictures of your children.

8. Spend time getting to know someone online before talking on the phone or meeting offline.

9. Report any member safety concerns to your online dating company. Stay away from people who bully you for personal information right away or pressure you to meet instantly.

Meeting the first time

1. Always let friends/family know where you are going on your date, details of who you're going to meet and what time you plan to be home. If your date is going well and you want to extend it beyond the time specified, call the person you let know about the date and tell them what time you'll be home later.

2. Meet in a well-lit public place during daylight hours with other people around. Try a coffee shop or restau-rant. Bring a friend to protect you in case the date goes badly.

3. Use your own transportation or public transportation.

4. Wear conservative clothing; avoid suggestive language and jokes.

5. Take a cell phone or change for a pay phone so you can communicate with friends/family if necessary.

6. Verify your date's name and description using their driver's license.

7. Do not go off alone with your date. Predators are masterful at building trust and confidence quickly and can take their victims by surprise.

8. Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable or insecure, immediately end the date and request someone at the location to escort you to your car or other means of transportation.

Worst-case scenarios

1. If cyber-stalked, block the offender's e-mail address from your e-mail account and tell your online dating company/ies to remove the offender's profile from their site. If necessary, change your e-mail address so it's unsearchable by your stalker.

2. Immediately report any stalking, sexual assault or Internet dating crime to your local police. Some police departments have sex crimes and cyber crimes units specifically trained to solve crimes related to online dating. Courts can order online dating companies to remove an offending profile from their site. And, depending on the case, police can run a forensic computer analysis on your computer and the offender's computer. If your offender is unknown, other forensic investigative measures are available to apprehend the offender.

3. If sexually assaulted by someone you met through an online dating service, get help right away from a local rape crisis center and notify your online dating company/ies to remove the offender's profile from their site.