Digital dating

Lots of people feel braver online, so it's not surprising some use the internet to look for love. It can be easier to find single people, flirt and talk about things like sex. You can feel like you know someone really well or that you want to take things further really quickly.

That’s one reason why online dating is so popular for adults.

But here's a fact… in the first 3 months of 2019, Facebook removed 2.2 billion fake accounts. And that's just Facebook. What about Instagram? Snapchat? Twitter?

So if you haven’t met someone in real life, it can be difficult to know who you're talking to. 

Dating dangers

Most dating sites are for over 18’s only - but even using those that are for ‘teens’ is risky.

Some people, men and women, use the internet to look for sex and target young people. They use sites and apps where they know young people go to look for love, flirt or find support.

They want to trick, pressure or force young people into sex. They are very happy to lie about who they are and what they want to get it.

Why? There are different reasons.

‘Paedophiles’ would rather have sex with children and young people than with adults.

Others don’t care who they have sex with but think young people are easier to trick, pressure or force into having sex.

Online you can pretend to be something you’re not – a friend, a mentor, a boyfriend or girlfriend. You can even pretend to be a completely different person. This means it can be hard to tell the difference between someone genuine and someone dangerous.

Meeting up

As a teen you’re much better off looking for love in the real world. You have lots more opportunities to meet people than adults do – in school, youth groups, sports or hobbies. It’s safer and nicer to build a friendship and possible relationship over time.

If you do meet someone online, it’s always risky to meet up with them face to face. If you decide to meet up, remember the dangers and follow these common sense rules:

  • Always meet and stay in a busy public place.
  • Do take a trusted, responsible adult with you, not a friend. If the person you’re meeting with isn’t being honest taking a friend will put you both at risk.
  • Make sure a friend or family member knows who you are meeting, where you are going and when you’ll be back.
  • If your instincts tell you something is wrong, it probably is. If the person you meet doesn’t look like the person you’ve been talking to leave as soon as possible.
  • Don’t accept a lift from the person you’re meeting.
  • Stay sober.
  • Take your mobile phone, keep it switched on and topped up with credit.
  • Your personal belongings can be stolen, don't leave them unattended.

If you're worried about your safety, or think you're in danger you should call 999.

Tell the person why you want to meet in a public place and that you’re bringing an adult with you. If someone’s genuine they won’t have a problem with you wanting to make sure you’re safe.

Real or fake? Spot the difference.

Chatting to a stranger online? Here are some warning signs they could be an abuser:

  • Too good to be true?

    Do they share all of your interests and give you lots of attention? Are things moving fast? We all like attention, but remember abusers will do everything they can to make you feel special. If they ask you to do anything you’re not comfortable you can always say no, seek help from an adult or contact us at CEOP.

  • Flattery.

    Do they praise pictures on your profile, saying you’re fit or sexy? It’s harder to think critically about someone if they’re praising you.

  • Let’s talk about sex.

    People who abuse try to get young people to talk about sex, sometimes really quickly. Be cautious if someone is very flirty or tries to get you to talk about sex online. You don’t have to say or do anything you’re not comfortable with.

  • Got any sexy pictures?

    Remember, if they ask you for indecent pictures they are breaking the law.If you send one they could threaten to share it with your friends or family if you don’t do what they want. This is a serious crime. Find out more

  • Can we go someone more private?

    Did you meet in a public place like a game or a chatroom? Have they asked to add you on Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp or anything which lets you private chat? Abusers use private chat to build a relationship and to get young people to trust them. Think before adding people to your networks – do they need to private message you or can you keep chatting in a more public place?

  • Our little secret?

    They don’t want other people to know they’re chatting to you – other people will help if things go wrong. They might ask you to keep your chat secret or say you’ll be in trouble if anyone else find out. If someone is making you do things you don’t want to do or aren’t comfortable with you shouldn’t keep it a secret. Tell an adult you trust, phone Childline or contact us at CEOP.

  • Mood swings.

    People who abuse try to control young people by flattering them and giving lots of attention. If you don’t do what they want they take it away or suddenly become very nasty. You don't have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.

  • My camera’s broken.

    Some people who abuse pretend to be a boy or a girl around your age and claim their camera is broken so you can’t see them. Never video chat with a stranger with a broken camera and remember - it’s easy to record and fake a video chat feed.

5 steps to safer chat

If you chat to people online make sure you’re careful about the things you talk about and what you share.

  1. How do I look?

    We’ve been told by abusers that they look for young people who use a sexy username, post sexy pictures or talk about sex online. Think about how your online profile makes you appear to others.

  2. Keep your private stuff private.

    Don’t share personal information like your phone number, address or school with someone you’ve only met online. If you’re not sure about whether to share information with someone ask yourself, what do they need it for?

  3. Are they really a 'friend of a friend'?

    Are they who they say they are? It’s easy for someone to post fake photos, stream a fake video, or learn about you and your friends from information online. If they’re a ‘friend of a friend’, ask your friend if they’ve met them in the real world.

  4. Just between us?

    Anything you share with a stranger online you’ve lost control of. If you send naked pictures of yourself or do embarrassing things on video chat, they could do share it anywhere, with anyone, even your family. Remember, it’s illegal to take or share ‘indecent’ images of anyone under 18, even if you’re the person in the pictures.

  5. Checking in and meeting up.

    Lots of popular social networks and apps enable you to share your location or chat to people in your area. It is never a good idea to share your location or meet up with someone you’ve only met online. But if you do decide to meet up, read our advice here

Are you worried about someone you’ve met online?

Have you met someone online and you’re not sure they are who they say they are? Have you started an online relationship and they’re trying to take things further. Are they showing you porn, asking you to send them naked pictures or do sexual stuff on cam? Maybe they’re pressuring you to meet up with them?

If you’re worried you should tell an adult you trust, like a parent, carer, teacher or youth worker.You can also get help from CEOP.


CEOP helps young people who are being sexually abused or are worried that someone they’ve met is trying to abuse them.

If you’ve met someone online, or face to face, and they are putting you under pressure to have sex or making you feel uncomfortable you should report to CEOP.

This might be someone:

  • Making you have sex when you donʼt want to
  • Chatting about sex online
  • Asking you to meet up face to face if youʼve only met them online
  • Asking you to do sexual things on camera
  • Asking for sexual pictures of you
  • Making you feel worried, anxious or unsafe

If this is happening to you, or you’re worried that it might be, report to CEOP.


Childline is a free helpline for children and young people. You can contact ChildLine about anything. No problem is too big or too small. Whatever your worry, it's better out than in.

ChildLine is a private and confidential service. Confidential means not telling anyone else what you’ve said. This means that whatever you say stays between you and ChildLine.

They would only need to tell someone else if:

You ask them to

  • They believe your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger
  • You are being hurt by someone in a position of trust who has access to other children like a teacher or police officer
  • You tell them that you are seriously harming another young person

Call them on 0800 1111. The number won’t appear on your phone bill.

You can also visit to speak to a counsellor online.