Online dating and social networks like Match.com and Plenty of Fish are supposed to be fun -- new and modern ways of meeting people, making friends, or finding that special someone. But you could also meet other kinds of people on these sites -- old-fashioned liars; cheaters and game players; serial daters; those who are married or have kids they don't disclose; scam artists and financial predators; sexual predators; even murderers.
Welcome to the modern world of dating.
With so many issues to watch out for, what can be done to make it safer for users to enjoy meeting people online? Should companies and Websites be held responsible for protecting users?
There are many who say Websites should be more active in monitoring their users, and they should have a more organized and active customer service system. There is talk of stricter policies and mandatory background checks, which raises the privacy issue.
To a certain extent, I agree. Companies and Websites should do whatever is necessary to protect users, but in the end, the users can and should be responsible for protecting themselves.
Several outside organizations and services are available that may help users in today's digital dating world. These include the National Sex Offender Registry/Family Watchdog, as well as services such as Open Access or Public Access, which allows access to public court records in California. The New York Free Public Records Directory also offers free public records searches.
Sadly, use of the above systems or services will not keep out all offenders, but it could increase security and raise the confidence of members in using online dating or social networks.
Some Websites, such as 123people, allow users to search for someone online and confirm them based on name and city. These sites can give a good starting point to confirm that a person really is who he says he is. Background check companies like US Search and Intelius charge fees to further check someone and make sure they are for real.
Of course, social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn can help people get to know each other. If someone tells you his name, that he lives in Miami and works as an accountant, there is a good chance he is on Facebook or LinkedIn, and you can confirm the information given.
While using these sites and services to protect yourself, don't rush in to anything. Taking the time to get to know someone before meeting is strongly recommended. If you do meet someone, a first meeting or date should be in an open and public place, like a popular Starbucks or a busy bar or restaurant, so you're safe with people all around.
When it comes to dating and meeting someone online or offline, use commonsense. If someone is pushy, moves too fast, will not disclose information, wants you to come to his house for a first meeting, and is unable to meet in person, there is a good chance he is not who he says he is. If a person asks for money, banking details, or too much personal information, just let him go.
It takes time to find that special someone, and if that handsome man really is The One, you will not need to rush into anything, send him money, or meet at his home for a first date. Use your intuition, and have a happy and safe Valentine's Day.
— James Malone is a veteran PR consultant and syndicated radio show producer.