Online dating is an increasingly common way for Canadians to find romance as apps like Tindr and Bumble connect thousands of singles looking for love.

But, as one Winnipeg man learned the hard way, moving from texting banter to an in-person date doesn’t always go according to plan.

Winnipeg police say the man was waiting in his car for a date to show up on Monday when he was allegedly pepper-sprayed and threatened by a group of teenagers. The suspects then allegedly stole the man’s vehicle and took off with his belongings.

A group of teenagers were charged with robbery and unauthorized possession of a weapon in connection with the incident.

Police allege the teens created a fake account on a popular dating website as part of a plan to lure and rob someone.

Unfortunately, users who create false identities are a well-known hazard of online dating. Known as “catfishing,” the form of digital deception has been the subject of television shows and documentaries.

But that doesn’t mean online dating is dangerous. Julie Spira, a Los Angeles-based dating expert and digital matchmaker, says there are several ways to help validate your date’s identity and have some peace-of-mind before your first face-to-face meeting.

Make a Google Voice account

Rather than give your date your phone number, Spira recommends making a Google Voice account. The site provides a randomized number linked to your phone.

“If the date goes south or keeps calling, you can change the number,” Spira said.

Google Voice also transcribes your voicemail messages -- a convenient way to keep records of your budding romance.

Call them

Most dating apps connect users via text message, which can give you a good sense of a person’s character. But Spira insists a 20-minute phone conversation offers a much better idea of your date-to-be.

If the conversation goes well, chances are you’ll hit it off in person.

“If you feel uncomfortable, you can take a pass on the date,” Spira said.

Research, research, research

When it comes to validating your potential date’s identity, every piece of information counts. Spira suggests looking up their phone number or email address in Google and checking Twitter and Facebook to see if you have any mutual friends.

If so, ask your friend for a quick “thumbs up or thumbs down,” Spira says.

She also recommends becoming familiar with Google’s reverse-image tool, which can run a search on your date’s profile image to see where else it appears online.

“When daters create profiles, they usually use the same photo on their LinkedIn, so it’s very easy to find someone’s first and last name,” she said.

Keep some secrets

When love is blossoming, it’s easy to get comfortable and share intimate details about your life. Spira says that where you live and work should remain off-limits for the first impression.

“You can say, ‘I’m in advertising or I live on this side of town,’” Spira suggested.

Tell a friend

When date night arrives, it’s important to tell a friend your plans for the night.

“There needs to be a buddy system,” Spira says.

She recommends telling them who you’re meeting, when and where and keeping them posted throughout the evening.

Park strategically

In the alleged car-jacking in Winnipeg, the victim waited in his car for the date to show up. Spira says it’s better to find a parking spot a distance away from the date location.

“If you walk 500 feet away to go to a coffee bar, they wouldn’t see what you’re driving,” she said.

…or take a ride-hailing service

It might seem polite to offer someone a ride home after the date is up, but Spira says that should be postponed until at least the third meet-up.

To avoid that situation, Spira recommends taking a ride-hailing service like Uber, which logs when and where you were dropped off into its system.

“There’s a record of it. You can safely get to your date with no car in tow,” she said.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable -- go home

First dates can be awkward, but if your date starts to make you feel uncomfortable, Spira says it’s time to ask for the bill.

“Trust your own intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, leave,” she said.

If your date crosses the line, Spira said that most dating apps and websites allow users to report someone’s behavior.