Montana safe for online dating, report says

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In this file photo, a man uses the dating app Tinder on a smartphone. (AP Photo File)

Online dating can be intimidating and those first-date anxieties many people experience, such as gauging how much of your personal life to dust off in conversation, may intensify as the meet-up moves from behind a screen to in-person.

But the surge in online dating has magnified another concern — personal safety. As online dating resources such as Tinder, Bumble and Match experience an increase in users, safety issues ranging from internet scammers and predators to encounters with sexually transmitted diseases are becoming more prevalent. However, according to a recent report, those who are part of the online dating scene in Montana have little to worry about in that realm.

HighSpeedInternet, a company that helps customers make informed decisions about their service providers, ranks Montana as the 10th-safest state for online dating in 2019, behind Connecticut, Iowa, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and others.

The most dangerous states for online dating, in order, are Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Nevada, according to the report released on April 29.

“I’ve never felt unsafe going out and meeting people here,” said Annelise Charon, a Whitefish resident who has profiles on multiple dating applications. “There is such a strong sense of community and everyone is always looking out for one another.”

One Columbia Falls resident who has a profile on Tinder and preferred to remain anonymous, shared Charon’s statement, saying she has never felt as though she was being scammed or that the people she met online in the Flathead Valley made her feel “endangered” in any way.

Researchers with HighSpeedInternet analyzed government data on cybercrime, violent crime, sexually transmitted diseases and sex education in order to create their rankings, according to the report’s methodology.

For instance, Alaska ranks as the worst state in terms of online dating safety because “Anchorage is one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., while the rest of the state is less infamous. Alaska also has a high rate of STDs, which doesn’t help,” the report noted.

For STD rates, the team looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The center’s 2017 reports, which were used to determine the 2019 rankings by HighSpeedInternet, show Montana reported 4,560 cases of chlamydia, or a rate of about 437 reported cases per 100,000 residents. That ranks Montana No. 38 out of 50 states. For gonorrhea, the state ranked 44th overall with 782 reported cases or a rate of 75 cases per 100,000 residents.

For cybercrime, researchers analyzed internet crime reports from the FBI, which show Montana ranks 46 out of 57 overall in count of cybercrime victims, which includes all states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. A total of 737 cybercrime victims were reported in Montana in 2017.

The information is based on the total number of complaints from each area when the complainant provided state information. The counts include internet crimes aside from online dating as well, such as business email compromises the report says “are constantly evolving as [internet] scammers become more sophisticated.”

The states that are highest in cyber victim counts are, not unsurprisingly, those that are larger in population, such as California, with nearly 42,000 victims and New York with nearly 18,000 in 2017.

Regardless of the various safety concerns that have become magnified with online dating, research shows online dating is rapidly becoming the new norm.

Recent research from Stanford University and the University of Mexico shows nearly 40 percent of heterosexual couples and more than 60 percent of same-sex couples that met in 2017 did so in an online capacity.

According to the study, “as a result of the continued rise of meeting online and the decline of meeting through friends, online has become the most popular way heterosexual couples in the U.S. meet.”

Charon said while she hasn’t had much luck in the Flathead Valley with finding a partner, online dating here has given her more important assets.

“I’ve found some life-long friends, gone and done activities that pushed my comfort zone and have learned to be more confident in myself,” Charon said.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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