Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

For some, finding love is on this year's list of resolutions. Now that February is here and Valentine’s Day approaches, many people are looking for that special someone.

COVID-19 forced many into isolation, seeking connections online. For many queer individuals, the Internet has served as a lifeline and place to connect with other LGBTQ folks long before the pandemic.

According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), romance scams were up 50% in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. However, many do not consider the adverse consequences of online dating, and they keep running into the same issues. Why? They do not think their personal data is important.

What is the first thing that happens when people meet one another, whether virtually or in the flesh? They share their information! When meeting someone new, you want to share your world. After all, this is how you begin to know someone, but letting your guard down online can have serious consequences.

man in white and gray striped polo shirt holding black smartphone Photo by Malte Helmhold on Unsplash

In cyberland, not everyone is looking for love on dating sites. Oversharing without awareness can lead to severe security and privacy risks. The receiving end may not be who you think they are. They could use your information against you to commit fraud or inflict harm. In a recent case, a Texas man used the dating app Grindr to lure gay men into robbing and assaulting them.

Online, many lie or bend the truth, and sometimes you may not even be speaking with an actual human instead, you may be interacting with a bot that collects personal information and files it into a database to plan a future data breach. Erring on the side of caution and protecting your personal information is paramount.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you explore the world of online dating:

1. Only use trusted cupid applications

Choose reputable dating sites by performing research first. Many malicious sites and apps are out there, and some are even available in the app store. It should be no surprise that many who download from a “trusted” source get duped. It is up to you to perform your due diligence before selecting a service.

2. Reading fine print does not kill ‘the mood’

We have all heard campaigns of using protection and arguments from some that it kills the moment. When it comes to reading a site's privacy policies and terms and conditions before engaging with potential mates, no one can argue that preparation can kill the mood! To navigate the complex text successfully, look for how your data is protected, processed, stored, and shared with third parties.

man in brown coat standing beside red wall Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash

3. Be sure your profile attracts love, not fate

Create a profile with your safety in mind that markets yourself authentically. The goal is to attract a suitable mate by relaying interests, hobbies, and preferences. Be cautious providing too much personal information that may harm you. Leave off supplying your full name, address, phone number, place of employment, and other identifiable information. Stick to posting photos of yourself, not those that reveal your home’s background, private details, your location, or any proprietary information exposed on a computer screen or documents resting on a nearby table. Be respectful of your human relationships and do not post photos that contain members of your family or friends, especially without their consent.

4. Indulge in something satisfying, not a scheme

Fraud is the oldest trick in the book, and the nature of the Internet makes it that much easier to conduct. Avoid solicitations targeted with deceptive messages that lure you into performing a task. It may come as a request for a gift card, money, or Uber rides. Be mindful of malicious emails and text messages that include suspicious links, or QR codes designed with deceptive marketing tactics that get you to click on a fraudulent URL.

5. Verify your crush on video, then meet in a public space

Many dating sites have video features now, so confirm whom you’re speaking with by using the video feature. Be wary of anyone not wanting to do so. I get it; some of you may not be comfortable on video; however, what is the difference if you’re meeting someone in person? It is better to be safe than sorry and to eliminate potential catfish. When meeting for the first time, agree to meet somewhere in public and furnish your ride to get there safely. It is not a good idea to invite strangers into your home or get into a car with someone you do not know or trust.

woman in white-and-black striped tops looking each other Photo by Trung Thanh on Unsplash

6. Stay loved through increased awareness and security practices

Love and respect yourself by establishing your safety and security boundaries. Implementing good security practices such as: storing strong passwords in a password manager, using multi-factor authentication, adjusting the security and privacy settings on all of your social media sites and dating applications, and having good security software on your PC and mobile devices. These protective measures will go a long way in helping to prevent many of the adverse incidents that occur online.

7. Let someone you trust know they are the ‘third-wheel’ from afar

No, I am not suggesting bringing anyone as a third wheel when you meet your date, though some certainly do, and that’s perfectly fine. However, it is good to let someone you know and trust your whereabouts. You can share your phone location for a limited period or have frequent check-ins with your friend or family member before, during, and after your date once you believe you are safe. For many LGBTQ who are not out, having even one trusted friend with whom you can share your sexual identity is necessary.

8. Allow a cupid to strike you with their arrow, and not from a fraudster

Enjoy your time meeting other people and developing something that could be long-lasting or last one night. By increasing your awareness of the risks to your physical and digital safety, you’ll be able to protect yourself against the dangers that lurk online.

If you do not feel comfortable with someone you’re speaking with, block them. Someone's behavior may cause red flags, and you may even wish to report that individual if they’ve violated you or the terms and conditions of the site.

If someone is trying to inflict harm on you, threatens you, or incessantly harasses you online, you should contact the local authorities and report the incident. They may encourage you to file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Division (IC3), depending on the severity of the situation and whether the incident happened online or at your local address. If you are uncomfortable addressing the incident with the authorities or need assistance navigating law enforcement, consult with a cybersecurity expert who understands and supports the LGBTQ community to assist with that process and help keep you safe.

Wishing you love and harmony, meeting your new loves online safely.

Tom Kowalski

About the Author

Tom Kowalski is the founder and CEO of REP, a cybersecurity risk and reputation advisory firm. Tom’s differentiated background in cybersecurity, crisis communications, and reputational risk allows him to effectively manage clients' digital risks and mitigate online threats that affect their assets, reputation, and well-being.

Several years before founding REP, Tom was the target of online harassment. The lack of laws governing social media and tech companies, combined with difficulty finding justice, led him to create his company.

Today, Tom eases the burden of worry for other LGBTQ victims and helps individuals achieve safety and peace of mind. He also helps organizations manage their cybersecurity risks, specializing in cybersecurity policies. Part of Tom’s work involves analyzing corporate security procedures, focusing on how their current strategies affect all individuals. Tom designs and improves policies that better govern an organization's security program and lower the risk of adverse incidents.

REP is a certified business of NGLCC (National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce) where Tom is an active member of the New York City chapter. Tom is also an active member of cyber security and risk organizations ISACA and the FAIR Institute.

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LGBTQ+ Healthcare Issues

The Dobbs decision, otherwise known as the court case that overturned Roe v. Wade, has resulted in confusing medical situations for many patients. On top of affecting access to abortions for straight, cisgender women, it presents heightened risks for LGBTQ+ healthcare as a whole. Flipping the switch on reproductive rights and privacy rights is a far-reaching act that makes quality care harder to find for an already underserved community.

As the fight against the Dobbs decision continues, it’s important to shed light on the full breadth of its impact. We’ll discuss specific ways that the decision can affect LGBTQ+ healthcare and offer strategies for overcoming these challenges.

How the Right to Bodily Privacy Affects LGBTQ+ Healthcare

When the original Roe v. Wade decision was made, the bodily privacy of people across the United States was protected. Now that bodily autonomy is no longer guaranteed, the LGBTQ+ community must brace itself for a potential loss of healthcare rights beyond abortions. This includes services like feminizing and masculinizing hormone therapy (particularly for transgender youth) that conservative lawmakers have been fighting against this year, as well as transition-related procedures. Without privacy, gender-affirming care may be difficult to access without documentation of sex as “proof” of gender.

As essential services for the LGBTQ+ community become more difficult to access, perhaps the most immediate effect we’ll see is eroding trust between healthcare providers and LGBTQ+ patients. When providers aren’t working in the best interest of patients — just like in cases of children and rape victims denied abortions — patients may further avoid preventative care in a community that already faces discrimination in doctor’s offices.

The Dobbs Decision Isn’t Just a Women’s Issue

While the Dobbs decision is often framed as a women's issue — specifically, one that affects cisgender women — it impacts the transgender and non-binary community just as much. All people who are capable of carrying a pregnancy to term have lost at least some ability to choose whether or not to give birth in the U.S.

For transgender and non-binary individuals, this decision comes with the added complexity of body dysmorphia. Without abortion rights, pregnant trans men and some non-binary people may be forced to see their bodies change, and be treated as women by healthcare providers and society as a result.

The Dobbs decision also opens up the possibility for government bodies to determine when life begins — and perhaps even to add legal protections for zygotes and embryos. This puts contraceptives at risk, which could make it more difficult to access gender-affirming care while getting the right contraceptives based on sex for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Overturning Reproductive Rights Puts IVF at Risk

Queer couples that dream of having their own children often have limited options beyond adoption. One such option is in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which involves implanting a fertilized egg into a uterus.

While IVF isn’t directly affected by the Dobbs decision, it could fall into a legal gray area depending on when states determine that life begins. Texas, for example, is already barring abortions as early as six weeks. To reduce embryo destruction, which often occurs when patients no longer want more children, limits could be placed on the number of eggs that can be frozen at once.

Any restrictions on IVF will also affect the availability of surrogacy as an option for building a family.

How Can LGBTQ+ Individuals Overcome Healthcare Barriers?

While the Dobbs decision may primarily impact abortion rights today, its potential to worsen LGBTQ+ healthcare as a whole is jarring. So how can the community be prepared?

If you’re struggling to find LGBTQ+-friendly providers near you, using telemedicine now can be an incredibly effective way to start developing strong relationships with far-away healthcare professionals. Telemedicine eliminates the barrier of geography and can be especially helpful for accessing inclusive primary care and therapy. Be sure to check if your insurance provider covers telemedicine.

If you’re seriously concerned about healthcare access in your area — especially if the Dobbs decision affects your whole state or you need regular in-person services that may be at risk — it may be time to consider moving now. While not everyone has the privilege to do so, relocating gives you the ability to settle in areas where lawmakers better serve your needs. However, this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, so preparing and making progress on a moving checklist now can help you avoid issues later.

The Dobbs Decision Isn’t LGBTQ+-Friendly

The Supreme Court of the United States has proven the power of its conservative majority with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. However, the effects of the Dobbs decision don’t stop at affecting cisgender women’s abortion rights. In states with bans, it also leads to forced birth for trans men and non-binary individuals. Plus, the Dobbs decision increases the risk of other rights, like hormone therapy and IVF, being taken away.

Taking steps now, whether it’s choosing a virtual provider or considering a move, can help you improve your healthcare situation in the future.