The internet can be a great way to meet new people. It's worked for many and could do for you, providing you take steps to protect yourself.

Apply the same rules to online relationships that you would in the real world

A million pound industry

Online dating is worth hundreds of millions of pounds. People are hooking up all over the internet. It can be just for fun, or it can get serious. Love, lust, jealousy: an online relationship involves all the emotions of an offline one. But there are some big differences.

True lies

Some people find it easier to type their true thoughts than admit to them face-to-face. So in some ways you get more honesty online. You might learn about someone much faster in a chat window than on a date.

On the other hand, the internet is the perfect place to tell lies: some small, some huge. It's easy to create a whole new identity, and you can never be 100% sure that the person you're talking to is who they say they are.

If you get involved with someone online, you need proof of who they really are before you even consider taking the relationship further.

Remember that photos are no guarantee.

Keeping it real

Apply the same rules to online relationships that you would to encounters in the real world. It's great to flirt, but set clear boundaries.

If people get obsessive, abusive or have mood swings, back off.

And remember, it might take time before you can fully trust someone.

Stepping it up

Webcams and phone chats can get quite full on. It's normal to feel nervous about having intimate conversations online. You should only go as far as you want and never feel pressured into anything you're not comfortable with.

The final option is meeting up. It could work, but make sure you know the dangers and be really careful before you even consider it.

Alternatively, you might never want your relationship to leave the chat room, that's fine too.

Top Tips!

  • Don't give your real name on gaming sites.
  • Best not to have anyone on your IM (instant messaging) list that you don't know in the real world.
  • You can block people in IM and chat areas.
  • Be careful how much personal information you give out on public facing platforms.
  • Tell an adult you trust if an online friend asks to meet you.

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.

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