Online dating was the topic of a research report released last year by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Here are some of the findings:
- 10 million Internet-using adults are seeking romantic partners
- 37 percent of them—3.7 million people—have gone to a dating website
- 43 percent of online daters think the activity involves risk
- 52 percent of online daters agree that a lot of people on the sites lie about their marital status
Online dating is big business. U.S. residents spent $469.5 million on online dating and personals in 2004, according to Wikipedia. So online dating sites don’t want their product to get a bad reputation—like they are full of cheaters. Most people looking for romance are not actively seeking liars and cheaters. (Even sociopaths—the most accomplished liars and cheaters—look for honest people, because we make such great victims.)
Is it True?
All problems are potential marketing opportunities. So to address the problem of lying and cheating online daters, True.com promises “safer, smarter, and more satisfying relationships.” How? Through “background screenings for felons and married people.”
The website states, “True screens against public records to check marital status.”
This claim appears to have gone unchallenged. The Washington Post wrote that, “True.com is the only major web firm that conducts criminal and marital background checks on all of its members.” The Wall Street Journal reported that True.com “requires users to undergo criminal background checks and also analyzes public records to try to ensure that no one on the site is already married and looking for a fling.”
In reality, it is impossible to find out if someone is married.
Only three states—Florida, Nevada and Texas—offer online databases of marriage records. The remaining 47 states all have their own laws about giving out marriage information. Sometimes you have to submit written requests. Sometimes you need to know the names of the bride and groom, and the date and and location of the marriage. Sometimes you need a court order. And no one has accessible divorce records.
So how does True.com verify that people are single? Lovefraud has twice sent inquiries to True.com asking that exact question. So far, no response.
Vague threats of prosecution
Here’s what else True.com says about keeping out married people on its page about “single verification:”
Representing yourself as single if you are married may constitute fraud and could subject you to civil and criminal penalties under U.S. federal and state law. For example, Title 18, Section 1343 of the U.S. Code provides for fines of up to $250,000 and jail sentences of up to five years for each offense. TRUE reserves the right to report violators to appropriate law enforcement authorities and seek prosecution or civil redress to the fullest extent of the law.
The law True.com cites refers to schemes to defraud or obtain money under false pretenses and specifically refers to interstate and international commerce.
True.com also says it will report married people to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Unfortunately, the IC3 doesn’t actually do anything except refer cases to law enforcement agencies.
So will any law enforcement agency criminally prosecute someone who lies about being married in order to get a date? Not likely.
Suing a felon
True.com did actually sue a guy—a convicted felon and registered sex offender—who tried to join the dating site. In a press release, the dating site touted the case as a “landmark civil prosecution victory.” Herb Vest, founder and CEO of True, said:
“From Day 1 when I founded this company, I made a solemn pledge to create a safer dating environment for our members and our industry. As part of this longstanding commitment, we continue to lead the industry by being the only site to conduct criminal background and marital screenings to help rid the site—and eventually the entire industry—of potentially dangerous individuals. I can’t guarantee that felons and marrieds cannot get on True, but I can guarantee they will be very, very sorry they did.”
Did True.com catch the guy through its screening process? Nope. According to the press release, another member of the dating site recognized the felon and notified True.com that he had joined.
And what was the result of the lawsuit? True.com got the guy to cancel his membership, promise not to join other online dating sites, do community service (a sex offender?) and pay unspecified monetary damages.
Push for legislation
Herb Vest, in the meantime, embarked on a campaign to get laws passed mandating dating sites that do not conduct background checks—like Match.com, Yahoo Personals, and all the rest—to make sure their members know it. According to Cnet News.com, the proposed legislation demanded a warning be placed atop every personal ad and e-mail: “WARNING: WE HAVE NOT CONDUCTED A FELONY-CONVICTION SEARCH OR FBI SEARCH ON THIS INDIVIDUAL.”
In 2005, Vest convinced legislators in five states—California, Texas, Virginia, Michigan and Illinois—to sponsor his legislation. It doesn’t appear to have passed anywhere.
Critics pointed out that it’s easy to avoid being snared by a background check—all a con has to do is use a fake name. Would a criminal think of that?
Millions of visitors
In the meantime, a lot of people seem to believe that True.com really is a safer dating website. According to Neilsen/Net Ratings for the week ending February 11, 2007, True.com had two million visitors—more than any other dating site.
And apparently, once you sign up at True.com, it’s not easy to quit. A writer for PC World magazine recently detailed the trouble he experienced trying to cancel his True.com subscription. To make breaking up difficult, the True.com website used small print, grayed-out type and its terms of service agreement. Two months after the guy thought he quit, his credit card was still being billed.
The Online Dating Industry Journal has written several articles about True.com’s deceptive cancellation policy. Lovefraud, in fact, received a letter from a former True.com subscriber complaining about exactly the same thing.
Use extreme caution
A significant number of people who tell Lovefraud about their run-ins with sociopaths say that they met the individuals online.
Yes, it is possible to meet healthy, upstanding people online. But you must be aware of the vulnerabilities and risks. If you participate in online dating, use extreme caution.
For sociopaths, online dating sites offer:
- Millions of lonely people who are looking for love and have credit cards
- Pre-screened victims, who have already provided information about what they want to hear (“long walks in the woods,” “homemade spaghetti”)
- Opportunities to work many potential targets at the same time
Here’s what you need to know: No matter what claims any website makes about safe dating, they will not stop a sociopath. Sociopaths approach online dating like sharks approach a feeding frenzy.