How To Stay Safe When Chatting With Strangers Online

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Many people today feel more socially disconnected than ever. As a result, some find themselves turning to the internet as an avenue for satisfying the need for basic human connection. While social media, chat rooms, and similar methods can allow us an outlet to express our thoughts and feelings with others and even form relationships, there are particular risks to be had when getting to know someone virtually. Read on to learn more about why so many people chat with strangers on the internet, what the risks are, and tips for keeping yourself safe online.

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Why do people chat with strangers online?

First of all, it can be helpful to understand what draws people to chatting with strangers online. There are a variety of potential reasons, depending on a particular individual’s situation. Some people simply find it to be an enjoyable or entertaining pastime. Other people chat with strangers virtually because they have something niche in common that their in-person connections don’t have. For example, someone who has a rare medical condition might be able to locate someone across the world who has it so they can commiserate and exchange information. 

Still, others talk with people they don’t know on the internet because they’re looking for the sense of social connectedness that we all need. Loneliness and isolation affect millions today, and many people find that the internet can allow them to make social connections that help them feel more supported and fulfilled—even if these start out as strangers. There are many reasons it may be easier or more desirable for some people to find connection online rather than in person, such as:

  • A fear of in-person rejection
  • Increased comfort communicating via typing/text than verbally in real time
  • Social anxiety disorder that makes in-person socializing difficult or impossible
  • An illness or disability that makes it difficult or impossible to leave the house
  • Living in a rural area

The loneliness epidemic

As mentioned above, loneliness is a key motivator in why many people seek out online connections with strangers. While loneliness levels have reportedly dropped somewhat from peak levels during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re still remarkably high in the US and other parts of the world—referred to by some as “The Loneliness Epidemic.” According to a 2023 Gallup poll, young adults in lower-income households are most likely to feel lonely, though this feeling can and does affect people of all ages and situations.

Furthermore, since another 2023 survey suggests that 48% of people under the age of 42 already spend more time socializing online than they do in person, it’s not surprising that the internet has become a common solution to turn to for those who feel in need of more social connection.

A growing body of research in recent years points to the significant physical and mental health risks of chronic loneliness and social isolation. Humans are social creatures, and the dangers of not having a support system can be serious. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows on its website, ongoing loneliness has been linked to increased risk of stroke, heart disease, type two diabetes, dementia, substance use disorder, depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidality, and earlier death.


 One study on online social connections suggests that social support found virtually such as through social media can augment the social support individuals may have in person, but indicates that in-person relationships may still be “a more powerful form of social support.” In other words, online social connections can be supportive and nourishing in some ways, especially for those who are experiencing isolation and loneliness. However, it’s generally thought not to be ideal for them to completely take the place of in-person connections and community. In addition to this consideration, there are also a few safety concerns to take into account when engaging with people you don’t know online.

Potential risks of chatting with strangers online

There are some unique risks that come with chatting with strangers online versus in person. While many people are genuine and who they say they are, many others log on with the intent to harm. First, there’s always the possibility of a person engaging in catfishing, or misrepresenting who they are in order to get into some kind of relationship with another person online. There’s often an ulterior motive in these cases, whether it’s an attempt to get money from the person or to harm them in some other way. 

Catfishing isn’t the only form of internet deceit out there, either. There are plenty of ways in which a person online might try to gain your trust to get hold of your money and/or personal details. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some of the most common scams include online shopping scams, investment scams, romance scams, tech support scams, prize or lottery scams, and family and friend imposters, and they can and do affect people of all ages. Identity theft and hacking are also not uncommon.

Cyberbullying is another potential threat to watch out for. Even a connection that starts out positively can take a turn, especially if the person on the other end doesn’t get what they want. This type of digital bullying can be conducted via text, email, social media, or any other digital medium, and it can be hard to put a stop to it since the abuser can be unnamed and may make as many new profiles as needed to continue their campaign. Since cyberbullying has been linked to psychological distress, decreased life satisfaction, and even suicidal ideation, being on the receiving end of this behavior can be dangerous indeed. If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Therapy can help with social skills

Safety tips for chatting with strangers online

While there’s some level of inherent risk involved in speaking with people you haven’t personally met online, there are a few measures you can take to help guard yourself. Some of these include:

  • Not providing personal or financial information online
  • Not providing precise location information about where you live or work
  • Limiting the personal details you put on social media
  • Choosing public chat rooms and forums over exclusive ones when possible
  • Exiting the conversation if you feel uncomfortable
  • Blocking and reporting harassment, threats, scams, or other harmful behavior
  • Avoiding in-person meetings with people you met online

It is possible to build authentic social connections online with people who start as strangers. This medium provides many individuals with the opportunity to meet new people and experience a fulfilling sense of community. Just remember to keep your wits about you and take the appropriate steps to guard yourself. If you get a gut feeling that something’s not right, don’t hesitate to leave the chat and then report and block the individual in question. 

Addressing loneliness or social challenges in therapy

Humans are wired for community and social connection, so feeling disconnected, isolated, or lonely can be a very difficult experience. If you’re looking for support, you might consider connecting with a therapist. If low self-esteem or a mental health condition like social anxiety disorder are preventing you from putting yourself out there to meet new people near you, they may be able to offer you treatment or other strategies to help you work through your distorted thoughts or fears. If you’re looking to build your interpersonal skills to use in social situations, a therapist may be able to help with that too. If you’ve had difficult or even traumatizing experiences with social connections online or off in the past, they can also help you take steps toward healing from those.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

As mentioned above, some people find interacting with others online to be less intimidating, more comfortable, or simply more convenient or effective than in-person formats. If you’re looking for therapy sessions that fit these same criteria, you might consider online therapy. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that online therapy may be equally effective as in-person sessions in many cases, so you can generally feel confident in whichever format you may choose.

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Many people across various age groups now communicate with others online, whether they’re existing social connections or strangers. While online relationships of various kinds can offer feelings of connectedness and kinship, they also come with a set of risks to consider. Taking the tips above into account when engaging with people you don’t know online may help keep you safe.
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