If you respond to a personal ad, try writing or phoning a couple of times first and use a post office box when corresponding. You don't want strange people ringing your doorbell unexpectedly.
When you intend to meet somebody in person who you've met on the Net or through a personal ad, phone chat box or dateline, make sure you know something verifiable about him or her.
The first time you actually meet, make an appointment in a public place like a restaurant - and NOT at either one of your homes.
Regardless of where you meet, be sure to get pertinent information from him or her first: full name, address, phone number, (if in the US) social security number and driver's license number. If this sounds a bit drastic to your potential partner, s/he should understand that you do trust them and hope they trust you enough to provide this information. You can't be too careful - even if you think s/he is the most wonderful person on earth, your safety should be uppermost in your mind.
Once you have this information, give it to a trusted friend (preferably someone who is aware of your lifestyle) as well as where you'll be meeting and when you can be expected to return. This isn't, as we've said, to scare anyone away from meeting someone met through the Internet or other "blind" services. It's so you can protect yourself from any problems which may (or may not) occur. You might want to rethink meeting someone who isn't willing to respect your desire to protect yourself by giving you this information upfront. By the way, be prepared that the one you're meeting may ask you the same questions.
There are quite a few horror stories around on the Internet about first meetings, usually in the United States. Most are just tall tales but the ones that are true are almost always the result of bad preparation and disregarding obvious warning signals. But this is not "just" true for the United States, it happens in Europe just as well albeit - as a result of the smaller scale of things - less frequently. Most likely in Europe you'll be the victim of a joke and nobody turns up on your first date. That stinks, but at least you're in no danger. Especially for the USA it isn't such a bad idea to set up a safety network for first meetings, i.e. have one or two trusted friends call you at the place where you are during your first meeting to make sure you're okay.
We cannot over-emphasize the importance of using your common sense. Although 99,9% of the people involved in erotic power exchange are perfectly normal people, especially the Internet has made it quite easy for people with not so good intentions to find their way into the community. If you smell a rat, don't proceed. When in doubt, ask others and follow their opinion. They - the bystanders - are usually right.
The general advice is not to start active play the first time(s) you meet, but spend time talking and getting to know each other.
Blind erotic power exchange dates are intriguing but very risky.
Incidental contacts - on a party or group meeting - may be risky as well. Within a BDSM group you are usually safer because somebody will probably know the person you want to date, so you can ask around first. Don't hesitate to ask. BDSM people are used to these situations and will be happy to be of assistance.
If you have no chance to ask, observe before you go into anything.
And, if you're planning to take part in active play at a party or group meeting, always make sure there's a dungeon master around.