Vancouver police have launched a new campaign aimed at protecting online daters from assault and fraud.

“There is no shortage of stories about bad dates gone wrong,” Det. Const. Michelle Grandbois of the VPD Sex Crimes Unit told reporters Wednesday. “Particularly on dating sites, women are finding themselves at a higher risk for sexual assault, violent crimes and fraud.”

In a release, cops gave several examples of Vancouver women who’d been assaulted by people they’d met online, including a 46-year-old woman who woke up without her clothes and no recollection of the night before after a first date. In another incident, a 28-year-old woman was sexually assaulted by a man she’d met online and invited into her home for tea.

The police department has set up a website that offers tips and information on how online daters can protect themselves.

The page recommends online daters:

  • Provide as little personal information as possible on dating profiles and social media sites
  • Use a photo you haven’t used elsewhere, so you can’t be easily identified though a Google search
  • Research the person you’re going to meet ahead of time
  • Avoid adding potential matches as friends on social media sites until you’ve met them
  • Meet dates in a public place and let someone know where you’re going

Grandbois also urged online daters to look for red flags once they do meet a match such as whether the person looks like their photo or is evasive and can’t answer simple questions about themselves.

“Trust your instinct. If it feels wrong, it probably is,” she said. “He may sound like your soul mate, but he is still a stranger.”

The detective said it’s not only women who are at risk, nor is there evidence to suggest that some dating sites are safer than others.

“There are victims of every gender, every interest. What tends to happen is more women report these offences,” Grandbois said.

“A predator will go onto, possibly, multiple sites at one time and just adapt their profile to the site itself and what they’re catering to.”

Grandbois said these crimes are still widely under-reported, making it difficult for police track the number of assaults that occur through online dating sites.

Numbers released by the RCMP in February, however, show 748 Canadians lost a combined total of $17 million to online romance scams.

“It’s never too late to report any crime to police,” Grandbois said. “We can’t help what we don’t know. Therefore, if they have been assaulted, then please come forward and report to police.”