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Archived 6 Aug 2015

One in four people now meet their partner online. Yet with 1,700 online dating sites in the UK alone, it can be tough to sort the good from the bad, ugly and downright strange.

We've 20 tips to help you find The One online, including top free sites, discounts on paid-for sites, cheap date tricks and much more.

In this guide

Don't feel embarrassed about online dating

If you're embarrassed about looking for Mr or Ms Right online, don't be. A recent poll on our Facebook page shows there's no longer a stigma about online dating, with 98% of respondents saying it's a great way to meet a partner.

Here are some MoneySavers' experiences for inspiration. Please share yours in our Online Dating Tips forum discussion.

Met my lady nearly six years ago on Match.com and we got married last August. Way to go! - Mike

Met my partner online, been together five years and have a gorgeous little girl. I know it doesn't work for everyone. But don't knock it till you try it! - CLARE

I met my partner online on a free dating site and we're very much in love. I agree it's quite a daunting experience, but once you sift out the players, it can be positive. - FAIRYFOOTS

Though most people use dating sites without any serious problems, it's important to keep your wits about you when you're dealing with strangers.

Tell friends where you'll be on the first date

When you feel ready to meet your online date face-to-face, make sure someone knows where you're going. Also tell them who you're meeting, and when you'll be back. Take a mobile phone and arrange to let them know when you've got back home safely - and tell your date that others know where you are.

Don't give out your number or personal email to someone you haven't met yet. Only share personal details when you've got to know the other person, and you're sure it's a genuine online dater based in the UK.

This guide only includes sites that ask for permission before revealing your contact details to users.

Key points to check include whether it'll post your profile on other sites, how it'll use your data, contract length, how you cancel, what safety support's available, exactly what you're getting for the price, and whether membership auto-renews.

If you don't agree with the terms, don't sign up. Similarly, only go with a site you're happy with, and check its feedback online - it may be better to go with a bigger established site you've heard of than an unknown name.

Be vigilant with both. The Metropolitan Police told us: Fraudsters operating on these sites are often highly sophisticated professionals. Sites that require payment do not automatically deter them.

Beware dating fraud scams

Here, someone gains your trust to demand cash, even using your private photos or webcam footage to blackmail you.

If you think you're being targeted, the Metropolitan Police says DO NOT send any money - report it to Action Fraud, or your local police station on 101 if you feel threatened. If you're in immediate danger, call 999.

We know seclusion can be romantic - but best to leave it till you know 'em better.

Don't rush into meeting up just because your free trial's about to end (or because they 'liked' your profile). Get to know them properly first - your safety's more important. If it doesn't feel right, move on.

Of course, dating websites are a huge boon in the digital age. Used right, they can be fantastic tools to help you filter through thousands of potential matches at speed. They can get real results - here's a MoneySaver's success story to inspire you.

Joined an online dating site and after a couple of months I met Damian. We emailed and spoke online for a few weeks, before talking on the phone most nights. We eventually met up for our first date and have never looked back. We've now been married nearly two years, and have an 11-week old son. - Rachael

Your profile will be your first introduction to your future match, so here are some key tips to help get it right:


  • Say what you're looking for. If you're after a soulmate and they just want a quick fumble in the bushes, it'll only waste your time. If it's you that's after a quick fumble, don't be too boorish - make sure they're happy too.
  • Upload several recent photos. You'll get more interest if you upload a few snaps of yourself, rather than just one.
  • Spelling mistaykes ain't sexy. Take your time and think about how you want to come across. You could even get a trusted friend to read it first.
  • Ask friends how they'd describe you. Even if you don't think you're anything special, they may see you as a great cook or gentle giant.
  • Say something interesting. If you've interests or hobbies, these can help you stand out. So if you're a huge Star Trek fan, don't think you have to hide it. It gives matches something to talk about.
  • Make it clear who you are. If your pics are all group shots, suitors may not know which is you. Avoid exes - this isn't the place for your old wedding photos.
  • Avoid cringeworthy cliches. Steer clear of phrases such as “I work hard and play hard”, “I’m looking for a partner in crime" and "I'm just as happy staying in watching a DVD as I am going out".

Sell your best bits in your profile, but be truthful. Your date will quickly realise you're not a seven-foot human rights lawyer who rows part-time for Team GB when they meet you. (Unless you are, in which case, please email MSE Archna.)

Likewise, a picture of you seven years ago before you gained a few pounds and lost a few hairs won't impress if it looks absolutely nothing like you now.

The key is if you're looking for a long-term relationship with this person, you won't be able to keep up the pretence long-term. Fibs lead to disappointment all round.

When sending that first message, don't just cut and paste the same reply to everyone. It pays to show that you actually read their profile.

You could always compose a standard introduction, and adapt parts to make it specific to each person, eg, "I love the fact that you're into hang-gliding".

Steer clear of cheesy cliches such as "nice pic, what's up?", "what's your star sign?" and "I don't bite, I promise. unless you want me to".

That said, don't get too serious - aim for fun, snappy and short.

Many dating sites offer pricey membership upgrades to bump up their profits. Yet only sign up to a premium package if you need it, you know exactly what it includes, and you'll actually use the extras, eg, a more prominent profile or easier messaging.

For example, Match.com makes you pay for extra features, such as the ability to go online in 'unavailable' mode and request read receipts. Zoosk encourages you to buy Zoosk Coins, which you can spend on extra features such as getting your profile higher up in search results.

It's worth starting off with a basic package to see how you get on, so you don't shell out unnecessarily. If you aren't getting many replies, it could simply be you've picked the wrong type of site for your needs, or your profile needs a bit more polish - see how to make your profile stand out.

Once you're sure you've snagged a winner online, your first face-to-face date is a crucial part of the process to see if there's real chemistry between you. To help:


  • Chat on the phone before meeting. This'll help screen out any unsuitables, plus it'll help you build common ground to talk about when you first meet. But only give out your number when you're sure.
  • Go on a 'pre-date'. Check if they're dreamy or a dud with a quick 'pre-date' to see if you want to invest time and money in a full date. A coffee during a work lunchtime's ideal - ensure there's a defined end time.
  • First impressions count. If you've had all your online dates in your PJs with a TV dinner, this isn't the time to follow suit. Dress to impress, and don't be late.
  • Relax - be yourself! Easier said than done if you've first-date jitters, but remember they'll be nervous too. So don't worry too much, and enjoy it.
  • Don't drink too much. It's easy to do if nervous on a first date, but it's far safer to stay sober if you've only met online (please be Drinkaware).
  • Make sure someone knows where you're going. Tell a good friend where you're going, who you're meeting, and when you'll be back. Take a mobile phone and arrange to let them know when you've got back home safely - and tell your date that others know where you are.
  • Use protection! We don't want to sound like your mum, but if passions are high, you don't want to return with more than you planned for. See the Family Planning Association for contraception and STI info.

If you're strapped for time for your first meeting, here's one forumite's tip to help:

A pal has been very active on internet dating for some time now. One of her rules is that she always tries to meet any date in her lunch hour. She says an hour's long enough to give you an idea of whether you're both interested. If you're not, it's only an hour to perservere rather than be stuck with someone for a whole evening. - chickalittle

Before you sign up, always check the terms to see if it'll automatically continue to take payments once your initial contract's ended. Sadly many forumites report being caught out by these. If you can't opt out, set a free Tart Alert reminder for the contract's end, or a separate phone reminder, so you remember to cancel if you no longer need it.

Even after you cancel, always do a full audit of regular payments to check you aren't still paying. See Cancel Direct Debits for help.

If you're looking for a first date venue, a nice cafe or bar's a far more MoneySaving choice than a restaurant. As you'll only need to buy a drink, you won't have to fork out for a posh dinner only to find they don't live up to your expectations.

Plus you won't feel you need to sit through an entire meal together if you don't hit it off - and if you do, a drink and a chat together can last for as long as you want. One forumite's experience:

My first date was pretty cheap and cheerful - two drinks in a pub, one of which was non-alcoholic as we were both driving. It was a perfect two hours, one of the nicest dates I have ever been on. - Snaggles

If you're new to a paid online dating site, consider joining for one month first to see if it suits. Then if you think you're in it for the long haul, it could be worth buying a few months upfront to save.

Most online dating sites charge less per month the longer you sign up for. For example, on Match.com one month is usually Ј30, yet six months is Ј60 (although there is often up to 30% off sign up costs). The catch is you're locked in and usually won't get your money back if you meet your soulmate in your first month.

If you decide to take the plunge, it's a good idea to set up a separate email address just for any online dating accounts.

Use this for dating site sign-ups and getting in touch with others - this way it'll protect your personal email from unwanted attention if things go wrong, or any online dating site spam. Think twice about using your work email address too.

If you'd rather not use dating sites, you could try other social networking sites such as Facebook to meet friends of friends, as well as the MSE forum (see below). Plus there's a wealth of free local groups on Gumtree, from choirs and sports clubs to folk just looking for friends for chats over coffee - just click on your area to find them.

Of course, dating existed long before the internet muscled in. If you're looking to meet like-minded people offline, you could try volunteering - there's a useful list of resources to help find placements on Gov.uk. It's possible to get into big paid music festivals for free through volunteer schemes - see the Free Festivals page for info.

Or you could ask a close friend to set you up with an eligible single friend they think you'd get on well with. Some inspiration from the forums:

How about matchmaking? Ask your friends or families if they can introduce you to someone they know very well, who is single and searching. It has worked for my husband and I, we were matched by a friend many years ago. - mamamia

See the Where to meet people on the cheap hunt for more ideas. If you're really looking to impress, try the Cheap but romantic gifts forum discussion (or if it goes really well, see the great Free ways to say 'I love you' hunt).

Though the MSE forum isn't a dedicated dating site, it's led to several real-life weddings between MSE forumites. One of these couples met in our virtual pub, The Money Savers Arms, where many MoneySavers go to meet like-minded people online.

People tell us it's a great way to meet folk if you're on a budget or have money issues, as there's no awkwardness.

If you're new to online dating, or have tips from your own experiences you'd like to pass on, the Marriage, Relationships and Families forum's a great place to share success (or horror!) stories, so get chatting. Remember it's a public forum - don't post personal info. Here are a few words from Fatboy and Wiggly's story to inspire you:

Five years ago I stumbled upon MSE looking for cheaper car insurance. A few glasses of vino and I ended up in the Arms, where I met Fat Boy. flirty messages led to phone calls and meetings, an engagement and eventually we finally tied the knot! - wishiwasarichgirl

Online dating's a hugely mixed bag. Many horror stories aren't due to the dating sites, but the person you've chosen from 'em. So be aware not everyone on there will have the best intentions (see safety tips), but don't let the odd dodgy date put you off.

See these as a funny story to tell the grandkids once you've found your match. To show you it happens to the best of us, here's a story from our forums (please do share yours in our Online Dating Tips forum discussion):

One guy bored the pants off me, turned up with his lunch down his top, nursed one pint for two hours (even though I offered to buy him another) told me he felt I wasn't wham bam enough for him by email but would give me another go. Needless to say I just ignored him. It took a further two emails being ignored for him to get the drift! - llh189

There are loads of ways to easily cut dating costs. Plus as they're more thoughtful, they're likely to be more successful than a bog standard meal out.

For a cultured date that doesn't cost a penny, we've full listings of 180 Free Museums and Galleries, or try our Free Festivals guide to see if there's one nearby. Or you could bag free audience tickets to their fave TV show, free or discounted cinema tickets or get Cheap Zoo tickets.

Forumites on the Cheap date ideas and Dating in debt discussions have loads of tried-and-tested dating recommendations. A few to whet your appetite(s):

Skip the expensive dinners. The best date I ever went on was a drive to the coast, a walk along the wind-lashed beach, followed by a cream tea in a pub by a roaring fire in winter. It was one of my first dates with the man who is now my hubby. It worked! - Jacks xxx

Go for a picnic at your local park. Bring a blanket, a picnic basket packed with your favourite cheese, grapes, wine and some chocolate for dessert. Bring along a book of poetry and take turns readings love poems to each other. - deloina

Some of my favourite moments with my now husband weren't expensive. When we walked along the river at night. a museum or gallery followed by a mug of hot choc with marshmallows can be more romantic than just going for a meal. - Molanole

Me and my other half are skintaroonies, but every couple of weeks we go to Orange Wednesdays at the pictures. We get a nice evening out and it costs buttons. - mooomin

Very impressed when a guy I liked knew my fave chocolate and had some waiting for me for DVD night. Was touched by the thought even though it cost less than Ј1. - bellaboo86

Worryingly, a BBC One Panorama investigation broadcast in August 2013 found several big dating sites had been using fake profiles to lure in paid sign-ups, with new users reporting receiving bogus messages that disappeared when they joined. A Channel 4 News investigation reported similar instances of dating site trickery.

It's illegal for a dating site to create fake profiles to generate cash. Trading Standards told us: "If a dating website provides misleading information (such as fake profiles), this could be an unfair commercial practice under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, and a criminal offence."

If you're dating online, sadly there's little way of telling the real profiles from the fake. Some of the fake images were reported to be taken from social networking sites without consent or old pictures of celebrities. (We've not heard of Martin's being used - there's probably a reason for this. )

If you're concerned, you could try a Google Images search to see if the profile image comes up anywhere else on the net.

So if your new hunk is actually just an old picture of George Clooney in his 20s, move on. This won't always work, so the key is not to get too attached before you've struck up a proper conversation with them.

Sadly there's no specific regulator for online dating agents, so contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 if you're concerned you may be being targeted by fake profiles, and it'll contact Trading Standards to investigate.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is also looking further into unscrupulous practices from some online dating companies. If you're worried your personal data's being used without your consent, contact the ICO.

If you're out for a meal with your date, ensure you've a restaurant voucher to whip out when the bill comes. As well as saving you both cash, it'll show your date you're good with money too.

Don't feel bad about doing it. In our Is it OK to use a voucher on a first date? poll, a whopping 87% of people either said it wasn't an issue, or it'd show they're a keeper.

Some of the past reticence was that vouchers were perceived as only for low-end eateries, yet that's long gone. Now if you’re savvy, you can even grab a 2for1 at some Michelin-starred venues.

If you're still worried, you could be subtle about it, as lawrie28 suggests:

If it was me paying and using a voucher, I'd take the bill over to the till or bar and pay there, rather than doing it at the table.

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It's worth checking if a dating site's a member of the Online Dating Association (ODA). This won't guarantee a hassle-free experience. But it does mean the site has to commit to an industry code of practice that includes honest communication with users, protecting their privacy and providing a way to report abusive members.

If you have a complaint about a company, the ODA says you should contact the dating site directly. While the association can't help resolve complaints, it says it monitors the flow of issues, and may step in if something serious is going wrong. We include whether our top dating sites below are members or not.

If you've paid for a subscription upfront but change your mind part-way through the contract, sadly there's little hope of getting your money back. But if it isn't providing the service it agreed to when you signed up, you might have a case for a refund, or even compensation (though it's never guaranteed).

You've statutory rights for poor service - and this applies to dating sites too. If you don't think a service has been provided with 'reasonable care and skill', it's broken the terms of the contract, or you've been mis-sold (eg, you were told something would happen and it didn't) you've a right to complain. See How to complain for help.

If you're in a contract with a dating site, cancelling may breach it, so check the paperwork first. You may need to give it notice, or there may be penalties for early cancellation, which could be cheaper than keeping it going.

Beware recurring payments. Also known as 'continuous payment authorities' (CPAs), these let firms take cash from your card regularly whenever they think they're owed.

You can still cancel a CPA or a direct debit if in contract, but you'll need to find another way to pay for the rest of the contract. This is because you're only in breach of contract if you stop paying altogether, but not necessarily if you change the way you pay (always check the terms to be sure though).

Until 2009, only the company could cancel them, you couldn’t. Yet even though you now have a right to tell your bank to cancel, many bank staff didn’t know this and failed to do so. If you asked your bank to cancel and it didn’t, you can now reclaim those payments.

If you're still having problems cancelling payments, despite contacting both the dating site and your bank, you can make a complaint to the free Financial Ombudsman Service. It settles disputes independently and will look into the case on your behalf. See Beware Recurring Payments for more help.

It can take a lot of courage to put yourself out there. Yet once you've chosen your site and created your profile, it's time to stop worrying and be yourself.

While it's likely to take time to find your perfect match, online dating sites are ultimately tools to help you increase your chances. Plus the web era means successful relationships that started online are now hugely common. Good luck!

Never mind finding your soulmate - finding the right dating website can be tricky enough, with literally hundreds to chose from. We've rounded up a few of the best below:

Anecdotally, free online dating sites tend to attract a bit of a mixed bag, as there are fewer barriers. Of course, it depends on the website, but free dating sites generally have more basic features and are less targeted to specific types of daters.

If you don't mind fending off (or ignoring) any unwanted messages, and you're aware of the online dating scams to watch out for (see safety tips), they're a useful way to meet others on the web for nowt.

Best for casual flings, huge number of potential dates

A massive name in the world of free online dating, Plenty of Fish lets you sign up, create a profile, send and receive messages for nowt.

I met my wife on Plenty of Fish and we had a beautiul baby girl in Jan, so it can and does work. It took me two weeks to decide to message her, as I felt she was out of my league looks-wise, but it's the best thing I ever did. - nfollows1982

How big is it? Over 90 million registered users worldwide.

Safety tips: Safety features are basic, but you can block problem users.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

Signing up will take about an hour, as you need to answer about 100 questions as part of its optional 'chemistry' and 'needs' tests. You can also write a few paragraphs about yourself and add up to eight photos.

As part of your profile, you can describe your personality in one word from a pre-selected list - which caters for everything from 'foodie' and 'nomad' to 'starving artist' and 'geek'. It also lets you choose potential matches by star sign.

You can choose what you're looking for from 'hangout', 'friends', 'dating' and 'long-term', though its intent section lets daters state if they're looking for 'no commitment'.

It's free to sign up, create a profile, and send and receive messages. Yet for those prepared to shell out, it also offers a premium account that lets you see when your profile was viewed by others, and whether the messages you've sent have been read.

Best for Facebook fans, quick sign-ups, dating locally

Very easy to use, and hugely popular with social network addicts, Tinder is a fast-paced (and addictive) free dating app to meet others on your smartphone.

It's quick to join - you just give it your Facebook info and you're ready to go.

How big is it? It's made 850m matches worldwide.

Cost: Free. (But you'll have to pay for the premium service, TinderPlus.)

Safety tips: Basic safety features. It needs access to your Facebook account.

What is TinderPlus?

It's the premium paid-for version of Tinder. It offers users an extended version of the original app, including unlimited right-swipes, likes, and an undo button to recover mistaken swipes.

There is also a Passport function which allows users to flirt with potential partners in countries where they intend to travel.

Users under the age of 28 who want the extra functions will be charged Ј3.99, and those 28 and over will pay Ј14.99.

It doesn't have a lengthy dating questionnaire. The concept's simple - download an app, then log in using your Facebook profile.

It only shows your profile photos and interests - it won't show your entire profile. Be careful you're happy about the photos users will see.

You browse others' profile pics, swiping past any you aren't interested in. If you are, you simply click the 'heart' icon. If they've done the same for you, you can then send each other messages. The amount of times you can 'swipe right' has now been limited, we've asked Tinder for more information on this.

It also lets you set the age range of those you're looking for, find recommendations, and limit your search area to daters within a certain distance from you. If you're keen on playing Cupid, it even lets you matchmake friends.

Be aware you're giving the app access to your Facebook account and pics. As ever, watch out if you aren't on Wi-Fi, as it'll eat into your data allowance.

You need to pay for TinderPlus features.

Best for urbanites looking to date locally

In the world before internet dating, finding a Significant Other was all down to who you crossed paths with – and Happn offers a playful twist on that, thanks to smartphones’ GPS functionality.

This free dating app allows users to connect with each other as they cross paths in real life, with a range of up to 250m. It can even show users where and when they crossed paths.

It's free to download and uses your Facebook information to build a profile. It'll show your name, age, job and a few pictures.

How big is it? The app has five million worldwide users and has one million active daily users.

Safety tips: Your location remains completely invisible to the other users. Only the location of where you have passed each other is recorded. You can also block and report users at any time.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

It's very quick. Just like Tinder, you download the app and then log in using your Facebook profile.

You can add additional photos from your phone if you are unhappy with the ones imported from Facebook.

Instead of browsing dozens, if not hundreds, of profile pics, you'll only see people you've come into close proximity with. It could be someone you saw during your commute, in your office building or someone living nearby.

If you like the look of someone, you can tap the heart icon. They won't know you like them unless they feel the same and tap the heart icon. If you are a match, you can start sending each other messages.

Your phone's location setting needs to be turned on. The app also requires a constant internet connection in order to pick up other users, so be careful it doesn't eat into your data allowance if you're not on Wi-Fi. Finally, just like Tinder, be aware you're giving the app access to your Facebook account and pictures.

Men have to purchase "charms", which allow you to send a notification letting the other person know you are interested without waiting to see if they've also tapped the heart icon. They cost Ј1.49 for 10 charms. Women get to send charms for free.

Best for regional searches

FreeDating.co.uk is a basic free dating site for online daters looking for both long and short-term relationships. Regional homepages help you quickly find daters near you, while its age categories span from over 18s to 50+.

Who for? Those looking for a cheap 'n' cheerful free site.

Safety tips: It lets you filter messages, block viewers and report issues.

Online Dating Association member? Yes.

Quick questions

Signing up's quick, as there are only a few questions – you should be finished in under half an hour. The site takes up to 48 hours to approve your profile, though.

Its homepage lets you search only new members from the last day or week.

Unusually for a free dating site, it's a member of the Online Dating Association trade body.

OKCupid

OKCupid is surprisingly slick and user-friendly for a free dating site - though if you want to get rid of the ads, you'll have to pay.

I had the most success on OKCupid, which is where I met my boyfriend. I've since recommended it to lots of people - including my mum! She met someone on there too. - Nervoushomeowner

Safety tips: Lets you report and block problem users.

Quick questions:

Completing your profile should take about an hour. You need to complete an About section with details such as what you're good at and favourite books. There are 50 questions, which can get deep, for example, 'What's your stance on abortion?' You can skip as many as you like, but OKCupid says the more you answer, the more matches you'll get.

Unusually for a free dating site, OKCupid says it uses an algorithm developed by mathematicians to match you with compatible partners. Its 'quickmatch' feature lets you rate or skip users at random, while if you've more time, you can go through a list of detailed questions for more specific matches.

Do you need to pay for some of the features?

If you want extra features, it has a subscription option to become an 'A-list member', at $19.95 for one month (about Ј12.50), $14.95/mth for three months (about Ј9/mth), or $9.95/mth for six months (about Ј6/mth).

Paid membership lets you view profiles invisibly, see the site without ads, and even search others by attractiveness and body type, if you're so inclined.

Watch out, as paid membership auto-renews. See its Help section for safety info.

Best for gay, bi or bi-curious men

Mega-popular smartphone app Grindr uses your phone's location to zero in on available men nearby. While often used for uncomplicated hook-ups, it's worth checking out for long-term love as well, as it has such a huge number of users.

Allows same-sex searches? Duh! Yes.

Safety tips: You can block and report abusive members.

Quick questions

No complicated psychometric questionnaires here. Just download the app, give yourself a profile name, upload a photo (optional), and answer a couple of questions (also optional).

Grindr's interface is user-friendly – just log on and you can quickly scroll through photos of potential partners and see how many feet away they are. It lets you star those you like.

Grindr also has a subscription service, Grindr Xtra, which lets you view the site without adverts.

As Grindr's often used for casual hook-ups, it's worth chatting first to ensure you both want the same thing before revealing your identity. Only share your location once you feel comfortable.

There's an option to connect the app to your Facebook account, so be careful if you'd rather keep your profile photo private.

With so many free dating sites, you might well ask why anyone pays. Yet paid dating websites may attract fewer time-wasters, have fewer ads and better safety features, or have a more tailored approach to matching specific types.

Don't assume that paid dating sites are always best though. All the below offer basic free trials, so it's worth trying these to see if it's for you before you shell out.

Remember to haggle! We've listed their prices below, but it's well worth calling up to see if it's possible to haggle it down. We tried phoning five big dating websites and managed to knock the list price down on two of them, so it's well worth a try.

Best for folks seeking long-term relationships

One of the biggest names in online dating, Match.com* is a heavyweight that caters for all age groups looking for both long- and short-term relationships.

I met my other half on Match.com. I paid for one month, only one profile attracted me and it was his. We started chatting over the phone, met up within a week and are getting married next year. I know I am one of the few lucky ones but if it can happen to us, it can happen to others - BettyDebt

Met my other half on Match.com. We've been together for a year now, he reckons it was the best money he has ever spent, as it was an investment in the rest of our lives. He signed up for a month and met me face-to-face within 2 weeks after many emails and calls, so jokes about trying to get a partial refund. Very MSE. - snugglepuss

Cost: Ј29.99/mth (less if you sign up for longer).

How big is it? 700,000 UK members.

Safety tips: It has a safety advice section and lets you report concerns to moderators.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

Setting up an account should take about 15 minutes. There are fewer questions than some other sites, though you can also add a Facebook-style list of favourite books, music, films, etc, which would take an extra 15 minutes.

One of its quirkier touches is if you'd rather leave things to fate, it even lets you search by 'born on the same day as me' and 'it's their birthday'.

What are the exact costs?

One month's basic membership is Ј29.99, three months is Ј59.97, and 6 months is Ј77.94. It also has add-ons with extra features, such as the ability to go online in 'unavailable' mode and request read receipts, though these add to the cost.

Watch out, as Match.com auto-renews your subscription unless you cancel it at least 48 hours before the date of your next renewal - some forumites report problems with this in the past.

Its basic free version lets you set up a profile, search its members, send 'winks' and see photo albums, though you'll need a paid subscription to send and receive emails and instant messages.

Best for those who want a friend to do their PR

If the thought of writing your own online dating profile makes you cringe, My Single Friend* lets you get a friend to do it for you. Founded by TV presenter Sarah Beeny, all its profiles are written by friends.

Its unusual approach to online dating makes it handy if you'd rather not jump into the online dating scene on your own. One forumite reports:

I have to vouch for mysinglefriend.com - every person on there has had their profile and picture chosen by a good friend, meaning that you often learn a lot more about a person than they would've chosen to write about themselves!

Me and my girlfriends had a lot of fun on it last year when we were all single, and met some genuinely nice, funny, gorgeous, intelligent people - and we knew they weren't nutters! It's a well-designed and simple to use site - highly recommended. - chezabelle

How big is it? 200,000 members.

Safety tips: You can block users & report them to customer services.

Quick questions

It will take more time for the pal you've enlisted to brag about what a fabulous, kind, fun person you are. You can then add your own comments to the profile before it goes live – "Gee, my legs aren't that long, but thanks."

It's easy to view others' profiles on the site before you even sign up. Your pal can search the site and suggest possible Ms or Mr Rights. There's also an iOS app available.

The site is also a member of the Online Dating Association.

Watch out - its memberships auto-renew, unless they're bought by a friend as a gift subscription. If you want to cancel, it's told us you need to do this through your online account, giving 24 hours' notice before the next payment's due.

One month's membership is Ј28, or it's Ј55 for three months and Ј79 for six months. Your first payment's taken in a single instalment (rather than monthly).

You can sign up for a limited free profile, and there's no time limit on this. It lets you search its members, get recommendations from friends, and see who's sent you messages - though you need a paid membership to read and reply to 'em.

Best for daters seeking intellectual & artsy types

Launched in 2004, online dating site Guardian Soulmates* is a popular site for those looking for long-term relationships.

After years of internet dating, dating through friends and trying to meet people wherever I could, I eventually met my boyfriend. The thing that worked for me was Guardian Soulmates, as people seemed fairly well-educated. However snobby it sounds, it was important for me. If you like geeky boys, it's a good start point. - Travelqueen

How big is it? 230,000 members (mainly in the UK).

Safety tips: You can block users and report them to customer services.

Cost: Ј32/mth (less if you sign up for longer).

How long does it take to set up a profile?

Signing up for a basic profile takes about 10 minutes, though you may feel pressure to take longer penning a super-witty strapline and profile. You can then add more details and a picture later.

If you prefer to pick people based on what they've written, rather than a scientific equation, this is the site to use. One tip is if you keep updating your profile, it will rise to the top of search results.

What are the costs?

Ј32 for one month, Ј64 for three months, or Ј96 for six months.

Watch out as its subscriptions auto-renew as standard, though its told us you can cancel at any time via a button on its 'your account' page.

Free membership lets you add a profile, search its members, receive some messages and reply with a one-line standard response, and there's no time limit to this. Yet paid membership's needed to send and receive all messages, do advanced searches, and see other users' gallery pictures.

Best for detailed personality matching

eHarmony's* trademarked Compatability Matching System uses a scientifically-adapted questionnaire to try to find a unique match for your personality.

Thanks to eHarmony I met my other half and we're getting married in March. I was a little doubtful of the whole concept but I'm guessing that I'm one of the luckier ones – it worked for me. - Mitchell

Cost: Prices vary. Ј50/mth on average (less if you sign up for longer).

Allows same sex searches? Yes, but on a separate site, Compatible Partners.

Website or app? Both - eHarmony app available for iPhone, Android and Windows phones.

Online Dating Association member? Yes.

Quick questions

Be prepared to answer a lot of questions for this, as there are over 150 in its questionnaire. Hopefully it'll be time well invested if you find a match.

The site is good if you're nervous about setting up a profile, as it offers gentle guidance while you write your spiel.

Once you find someone you like the look of, you can choose from a selection of pre-set 'icebreaker' questions and comments – handy if you're daunted by making that first approach.

It's at the pricier end of dating sites. The site offers different prices to different members. But it says on average, it's Ј50 for one month, Ј72 for three months or Ј120 for six months.

Yes - you need to turn off auto-renewal in your account settings.

It lets you sign up, look at profiles and send 'icebreakers' for nowt, but you need a paid membership to send and receive messages.

Best for keen social networkers

Zoosk is particularly popular with those wanting to date online via their smartphone or Facebook profile, though you can also access it via the web.

Cost: Ј22.74/mth (less if you sign up for longer).

Online Dating Association member? No.

Website or app? Both.

Safety tips: A customer service team to help with issues.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

This is a quick one. It takes about 10 minutes to register and answer a few questions. You can also sign up via Facebook, which is even quicker.

Zoosk attracts social networking fans, as it encourages members to link profiles to Facebook and Twitter. This - along with its photo verification tool, which it claims helps eliminate catfishing - can help you give confidence in potential dates, though make sure you're happy about sharing your profile information first.

Ј22.74 for one month, Ј15.98/mth for three months, Ј11.99/mth for six months.

Watch out as memberships auto-renew, though you can opt for them just to expire. To cancel, visit the subscription hub under the settings tab. It also has free apps for both iPhone and Android, and via Amazon.

A trial membership is free and last indefinitely. It lets you create a profile, search other profiles, initiate a conversation and even receive responses for nowt. But if you want to respond to an email, see who's looked at your profile, and get full access to chat with others, you'll need a paid membership.

If you want to look for love in a more specific way, the following sites are targeted at particular audiences.

Best for city slickers

Founded in 2006, Lovestruck* is targeted at time-strapped urban folk, catering for some of the UK's biggest cities, including London, Birmingham, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

Allows same-sex searches? Yes

How big is it? 500,000 UK members.

Safety tips: You can block members or report them to its help team.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

Lovestruck requires you to answer a few questions, then write at least 50 words about yourself. If you fully complete every question, for example, on your favourite books and films, you'll be there for about an hour.

It also has free dating apps for both iPhone and Android. Membership also gets you discounted entry to its events, such as bowling, comedy and quiz nights.

What are the costs?

One month's paid membership is Ј39, three months is Ј65, six months is Ј99, or Ј139 for a year, taken as one-off payments. If you buy a package, eg, three or six months, you can't get a refund if you meet someone special before the period's up.

Beware - Lovestruck auto-renews your membership for as long as your initial subscription term. You'll need to contact it separately to cancel at least two working days before it's due to renew, read more.

Non-members can add a profile and browse others' profiles indefinitely, as well as send 'winks', but you'll need to pay to send and receive messages. Plus, it's free to download the app. Also, there are a number of free singles events you can attend, more info on the Lovestruck website.

Best for Jewish singles

JDate brings together thousands of single men and women from across the Jewish community. As well as letting you add your religious background (eg, Hassidic, Modern Orthodox, Traditional), it also allows non-Jewish daters, who can specify whether or not they're willing to convert.

I met my girlfriend 18 months ago on JDate and we're very happy, bought a house together. so I see the six months or so I was paying fees as a sound investment. - ringo_24601

Cost: Ј19.99/mth (less if you sign up for longer).

Online Dating Association member? No.

Safety tips: Telephone support number if you have an issue.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

It takes just 20 minutes to complete a basic profile. You just need to answer some generic questions such as "how often do you visit a synagogue?" and "are you willing to convert?".

It has a free apps for iPhone, and Android, so you can check your membership on the go.

A one-month standard membership's Ј19.99, three months is Ј16.66/mth (paid upfront as Ј49.99, renewing at Ј16.75/mth after this), and six months is Ј12.50/mth (paid upfront at Ј74.99, renewing at Ј14.99/mth after this). "Premium" plans with extra features are also available, for a little more.

Watch out as its memberships auto-renew, though you can turn this off via your account online, or by calling its customer services team.

You can join for free to create a profile and search matches, though you'll need a membership to send, read and reply to emails and instant messages. There's no time limit to how long you can access this for free.

Best for Christian singles

Christian Connection is owned and run by Christians, and caters for those looking for both friendships and relationships. It lets you specify your faith further if you wish (eg, Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Quaker etc).

Safety tips: You can block users & contact its customer support team with issues.

How big is it? 40,000 UK members.

Allows same sex searches? Yes, but it has only a small number of same-sex daters.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

Creating your profile takes about 40 minutes, and uploading a photo is compulsory.

It also has a space for its users to say more about their spiritual journeys and inspirations on their profile.

Members can organise their own group meetups and attend events run by Christian Connection.

Paid membership's Ј24 for one month or Ј48 for three months, or Ј64 for 6 months. For this, you can start up to 30 conversations a day, make unlimited board posts, get live chat and priority support. See Christian Connection for info.

If you sign up for a one-month or three-month membership, watch out as these auto-renew. Its year-long membership is taken as a one-off payment, and doesn't auto-renew. Christian Connection says you can cancel an auto-renewal via its 'subscription' tab, or email its support team to do this.

Its three-day free trial lets you send five messages a day and search its members. After, it converts to a basic version that doesn't let you send messages, though you can respond with some preset messages. See memberships info.

Best for outdoor types

Quirky site Muddy Matches* describes itself as an online community for 'anyone who leads a muddy-boots lifestyle wanting to meet like-minded, country people'.

Safety tips: You can block users and contact its help number.

Online Dating Association member? Yes.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

Creating a basic profile should take about 10 minutes but there are also a host of outdoorsy-themed questions about your likes, dislikes and interests. Anyone for polo or clay pigeon shooting?

Interestingly, users give their 'muddy-townie ratio', so you can rate yourself as 70% countryphile, 30% urban fox. Helpfully, Muddy Matches has confirmed memberships don't auto-renew - when your subscription ends you simply revert back to being a free member.

There's also a free Muddy Matches app for both iPhone and Android mobiles. This site's a member of the industry trade body, the Online Dating Association.

Paid membership's Ј24 for one month, Ј45 for three months, Ј69 for six months and Ј90 for a year.

Yes. If you paid for your subscription by card, it will automatically be renewed before it expires. To make sure this doesn't happen, cancel automatic renewal at least 48 hours before your current subscription ends. If you do this, you'll simply revert back to free membership.

Yes. It's free to register - as a free member you can add a profile, search for other members, and see who's visited your profile, and there's no time limit on this. But to access or send messages, you'll need a paid membership.

Best for single mums and dads looking for love

If you're a mum or dad, Dating for Parents is a good way to meet other singles with children. There's no stress over how to broach the subject of little'uns, as you're both in the same situation.

How big is it? It's a smaller site.

Safety tips: You can block members or report them to its help team

Online Dating Association member? No.

How long does it take to set up a profile?

The profile is just a few paragraphs long, so should only take 10 minutes. You then fill out a multiple choice form on your personality, hobbies and interests.

You can upload up to 12 pictures and if you're feeling confident, record a video message. It usually takes 20 minutes for your photo to be approved.

You can send potential dates emails, quick instant messages or just 'wink' at them. If you're not feeling creative, it lets you pick an icebreaker greeting from a selection (eg, "Howdy, catchy profile!").

It costs Ј2.97 for three days, Ј24.99/mth for one month, Ј14.99/mth for three months (Ј44.97 total) or Ј9.99/mth for six months (Ј59.94 total).

Can you get anything for free?

As a basic member, you can browse profiles but if you want to contact other members, you need to pay.

Any others you'd like us to review? Add your suggestions in the forum

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