Should Online Dating Sites Be Required To Do Background Checks?

Almost anyone who has ever visited — let alone actually joined — an online dating site knows going in, or quickly learns, to take everything they read and see with a grain of salt. A really, really big grain of salt. But the recent case of a convicted killer, awaiting trial for yet another murder, who posted a profile on Match.com has gotten some people talking about adding regulations to these sites.

Online dating professionals say that many users join these sites, especially pay sites, under the misguided assumption that everyone they meet isn’t a creepy killer.

Says someone from WomanSavers.com:

I can understand why daters are getting a false sense of security — they’re paying a fee to be on their site.

Meanwhile, folks like the above-mentioned convict troll these sites, never mentioning their multiple homicides, or even the fact that their pictures are four years old and have been photoshopped to death.

In 2008, New Jersey passed a law that requires dating sites that don’t do criminal background checks to prominently disclose this fact on the site.

One analyst thinks background checks are going to soon be a demand from the people that spend over $800 million this year on online dating sites:

If clients demand better screening, or screening in and of itself, then operators will have to deliver that… This is a very competitive industry, and service is something that stands out.

Meanwhile, a lawyer who represents some dating sites says that background checks and legislated regulation gets into murky legal territory:

Should that individual be forever prohibited from engaging in romantic relations using a Web site? There are so many shades of gray that it would be difficult for online dating sites to come up with a blanket policy.

Where do you come down on this? Would you be more willing to join a site that does a criminal background check on its members?

Match made in hell: Dating services may not do criminal checks [SeattlePI]

Comments

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  1. PanCake BuTT says:

    Only if you want to take the fun out of meeting, weirdos, skeezo’s, psycho’s, nutter-butters and kooks! So my vote would sway to ….NO!

    • sonneillon says:

      Agreed. That is part of the fun of meeting someone on Craigslist is not knowing if you are going to return unscathed.

    • spamtasticus says:

      Regulate them! then force bartenders to do bgnd checks on all that toe up to a bar. We all need government mandated nannies because we cant think or fend for ourselves.

  2. Liam Kinkaid says:

    I just want to make sure that they’re not some right wing Christian fanatic that’s gonna snoop through my computer and delete all my porn. I’d pay money to ensure that never happens again.

  3. Alvis says:

    They may or not be criminals, but even the best-intentioned person who signs up for online dating is still creepy as hell in my book.

    • DorsalRootGanglion says:

      I know tons of people who have met online and married someone pretty wonderful. The alternatives, TBH, are a little skeevy to me at times: dating your way through social groups, selecting people at work, picking people up in bars or coffee shops.

    • Hoss says:

      It’s not what you think…the real pervs are busy at church socials

    • SuperNinjaâ„¢ says:

      I met my wife of 5 years on Yahoo and we are still going strong. 1 kid, life’s better than ever.

      Is it possible that you have preconceived notions that disable your ability to make rational judgments?

    • tbax929 says:

      MG. D y vr pst nythng tht sn’t cmpltl snn? Dd Frk pn p th fldgts r smthng? swr th cmmntrs hr r gttng mr stpd vr d.

    • lennox11432 says:

      That is a pretty ridiculous comment. Online dating is a far more efficient use of time than most other ways of meeting members of the opposite sex.
      +1 to Dorsal’s comment. Picking people up at bars is far skeevier if you ask me…

      • Alvis says:

        Oh, sure it’s efficient, but that doesn’t make it OK. Watching porn’s more efficient than meeting someone, developing a relationship, and having them take their clothes off in front of you, but that doesn’t mean it’s less sketchy. CREEEEEpy.

    • AstroPig7 says:

      So my wife and I are both creepy? Nice generalization.

      • ahleeeshah says:

        And I actually met AstroPig7 in real life years ago through a dating site. I must be doubly creepy since I met my current live-in boyfriend there as well.

    • thisistobehelpful says:

      Paranoid is a creepy quality.

    • slim150 says:

      you are probably the same type of person that says this:
      “phewy with HD televisions.. i dont even notice the difference. ill keep my 1988 zenith thank you very much”

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Phooey. I met someone awesome online (not on a dating site though) and I haven’t met ANYONE worth dating in meatspace around here. Bars? Forget it. I’ve been dating for more than twenty years and NEVER met anyone good in a bar, in any city I’ve ever lived in.

      There are tons of people out there who met online and are not creepy, skanky, etc. What planet are you from?

      • LorgSkyegon says:

        Well that’s where you messed up son. You can’t go to no bar to find a nice woman. You got to go to a nice place, a quiet place. Like the library – there’s good women there. And at church there’s good girls. Oh, and this place I’m going tonight, the Black Awareness Rally, there’s gonna be some fine women there. Good, good clean girls.

        • DorsalRootGanglion says:

          So what you’re doing is turning an institution of study and learning, a place for worship and praise, and a rally for personal advancement into your personal meat market. How is that a good thing?

        • MsFab says:

          +1 for the Coming to America reference

    • Intheknow says:

      Not so. I’m a good-looking 44-year-old woman. I met my ex-husband through a dating newspaper (long before the internet). We broke up after 18 years and 3 children only because he cheated. I was lucky enough to strike gold again with my current SO. We’ve been together for over 4 years. I just hate the whole dating “scene” and would rather find someone I’m probably compatible with my way than out in the jungle.

    • Pureboy says:

      I met my wife on a dating site, my brother met hers on a dating site, and I know plenty of other people who have met online. The social stigma of online dating has gone away for the most part, but my wife and I make it a point to tell people how we met to help remove the stigma.

    • Pureboy says:

      brother met his
      Edit.

  4. nbs2 says:

    I’d be worried that the site might become liable for errors in the background check results. and I certainly don’t think they should be held up as experts on what is a good check versus not.

    Besides, but for trolling those sites, how else are college kids going to have fun?

  5. DorsalRootGanglion says:

    This is a bit ridiculous. On a site full of user-generated contact with the aim of forming personal relationships, I don’t believe there is a legal or moral imperative to conduct background or criminal checks. Much like real life, people misrepresent themselves all the time. The sites inform you of this. It’s the user’s responsibility to exercise due diligence and ask himself, “Is this person who he really says he is?”

    I appreciate the law’s attempt to keep people safe and generally, I’m in favor of commonsense regulation. However, this is the nanny state gone berserk. Most of the issues in dating come not from crime, but from personality and financial issues. Let the user be safe using the user’s own common sense. If the user isn’t comfortable, choose another means of meeting people, like, you know, bars or social groups.

    It’s a bit like asking Craigslist to do product testing to make sure that used toaster oven won’t kill you.

    • mythago says:

      You have a really low threshold for “the nanny state gone berserk”. There’s only one law actually mentioned in the article, and all it does is require sites that choose not to do background checks to disclose that.

    • Fidget says:

      How is it “nanny state” to suggest that A) websites prominently display if they do not provide a certain service that many would assume to be par for the course (based on their own advertisements), or that B) there is a large potential market for anyone who does open a site that performs background checks? The article title is a little misleading; the demand would be placed by the customers of the sites, not the government.

      • tootberg@spam.la says:

        The title of this article is asking if dating websites should be required to perform background checks, not to merely disclose that they aren’t, or to suggest that maybe there is a market for it.

  6. Thyme for an edit button says:

    I think the sites should disclose they don’t do criminal background checks. I don’t think the sites should be required to do such checks, however,

    The users can do the checks themselves if they want to do that.

    • Thyme for an edit button says:

      BTW, I met my current boyfriend over a year ago through okcupid. So far, no murder.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Two years from Yahoo personals. No murder.

        • Julia789 says:

          Husband 12 years ago, through that old dinosaur AOL :-)

          I even got a bonus kid 9 years ago! Thanks AOL!

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            So that’s what was on those free trial CDs…kids!

            • Julia789 says:

              Yeah they come with the free trial! Watch out it’s a scam. Once the kid gets you, you’re hooked into paying every month for LIFE! You can try to cancel all you want, but no charge-backs.

          • selianth says:

            I got that beat. I met my husband 18 years ago on a local 3-line chat BBS. I think back on it now and I have no idea what my mother was thinking, letting my 14-year old self go out and meet these strangers from the computer.

      • DanRydell says:

        I’ve only met one murderer, and that was without the help of a dating site.

        Next article: Should IRL Be Required to Do Background Checks?

      • Wowbagger.the.Infinitely.Prolonged says:

        That made me laugh. Please do keep us updated if the murder rate within your relationship changes!

    • Griking says:

      I agree. If the site wants to do background checks on all of its members then that sounds like a great benefit of using their service over another but I don’t think that it should be mandatory.

  7. apd09 says:

    I met my wife through Yahoo Personals and she was very careful about dating me at first to be sure I was not a sociopath and those were her exact words. She would leave info with friends of where we were going for dinner or out on a date plus my name and phone number so if she went missing the police would be able to find me.
    It was cute, I did not take it personally because I completely understand that there are some psychos out there.

    Here is the big problem with these sites, is it going to cross reference the name, address, and other vital info with what the person put on the site, or just run a check on the SSN provided? I do not think people should be branded for life, but you also need to be careful like my wife was.

    • the atomic bombshell says:

      That’s what everyone should do on any sort of date or hooking-up scenario! I haven’t been murdered yet.

    • RandomHookup says:

      You can’t really do a criminal check based on SSN. Most courts keep track of you by name and DOB (which can sometimes lead to confusion).

    • ahleeeshah says:

      My mom knew I was meeting up with people from a dating site when I moved up here two years ago. Each time I would leave a name and number for the person I was seeing, and we always met in a public place and drove separate cars. As long as you’re very safe and selective with who you meet, I think you’ll be okay most of the time.

  8. MPB says:

    We should be able to do background check on dating sites ~ my profile on eHarmony required women that didn’t drink and didn’t have pets ~ what did I get? “Contact these women; they like wine and have pets.” What a rip.

  9. FatLynn says:
  10. mythago says:

    Unfortunately a lot of people think that there are some kind of rules preventing people and businesses from doing anything shady or careless.

    A short “I have read and agreed to” paragraph stating that the site doesn’t perform background checks, that people self-report all their information, and that you are aware you should be careful when meeting people online, would be a great idea. Making sites perform background checks, not so much.

  11. kaceetheconsumer says:

    I like the idea of requiring a statement that says the site doesn’t do checks because that lets potential clients know that their matches won’t be checked and neither will they.

    Then those people who don’t want checks done on themselves and don’t care about checks being done on matches can choose a service that doesn’t do them, but for those who want checks on matches, they know that they’re signing up to have their own business peeked at. Sounds fair to me.

    Besides, there’s a lot of other required legaleese in any of those services and most people skim it and click I Accept, so put the information there for those who bother to read and let the rest sink or swim.

  12. nakkypoo says:

    Obviously! Bars do background checks on all their patrons, why are dating sites exempt?
    /sarcasm

    The push to get dating sites to do background checks or disclose that they don’t is being done by some dating site that’s main feature is that they do background checks. I think it’s ridiculous. Psychos and murders and thieves and rapists are everywhere, not just on dating sites.

    • mythago says:

      Dating sites, unlike bars, promote themselves as a great way to find compatible people. when they have ‘compatibility questions’ and stern warnings about disclosing information, it’s easy to see why people think “they” screen out freaks.

      • tootberg@spam.la says:

        You’d have to be pretty dumb to think that.

        How does one go from a statement on a website that says they do personality profiles and create matches for compatibility to “we can magically tell if your match is an axe-wielding murderer!!!”?

  13. smo0 says:

    There are dating sites for convicts.

    Yes, they should do background checks… obviously it will deter people with questionable backgrounds, while getting the honest joe’s to join.

  14. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    You could have different tiers based on your background check! Like a group with 0-1 convictions (misdemeaners only), 1-2 (non-misdemeaner convictions), 3-5, and 5+ (or “gross repeat offendor” category). That way, those with no convictions could narrow to find the same like-minded law-abiding citizen, or you could go for the 3-5 crowd and “slum” it.

    Also, it makes it easier for those shadier folk to find true love. Because let’s face it, a lot of people draw the line at multiple convictions…. except those with multiple convictions. Why get 3 dates in only to discover your boyfriend has held up a few liquor stores. I think he would have preferred someone with more robbery experience and hopefully find his true love, and new partner in crime.

  15. GuidedByLemons says:

    “Should that individual be forever prohibited from engaging in romantic relations using a Web site? There are so many shades of gray that it would be difficult for online dating sites to come up with a blanket policy.”

    Bull-honky; they just don’t want to have to go to the expense of doing background checks (a cost that would surely need to be passed onto the users). Whether you believe dating sites should be required to do background checks or not, it’s extremely easy to come up with a blanket policy: if a user has a felony record, disclose that they have a felony record. The end.

  16. nakkypoo says:

    Also, what sort of idiots get lured into a false sense of security? When you join up no background check is done on you, why would you think it’s done on anyone else?

  17. Tim says:

    Uh. Call me old fashioned (I’m 21), but who ever assumes that the people they’re meeting are not only completely honest, but also not murderers? Where does that assumption come from? Because you paid?

    Oh, I guess if I pay a cover charge at a club, I should assume everyone there is a saint.

    I guess I don’t mind requiring sites that don’t do background checks to disclose it, but that’d be like saying that dog parks that don’t do background checks should also disclose it.

    • mythago says:

      Do dog parks market themselves with compatibility tests and promises that you will meet fabulous mates at the dog park? Their business is matching people up. It’s not unreasonable for someone to suppose that maybe they weed out the real psychos.

      • Sumtron5000 says:

        But the compatibility test that you take is the same one everyone else takes. I’ve taken those before, on a free trial to one of the pay sites, and it gave me no reason to think that it would weed out anybody. All you have to do is lie on the answers.

        And since I never gave my address or soc, I had no reason to assume that it did any backround check on me, nevermind anyone else.

  18. Tim says:

    Actually, now that I’ve thought about it, let me add a little.

    If a site markets itself as a matchmaker, then I could perhaps see a slight bit of an expectation that its users are legit. After all, it’s a service that’s saying “we’re pretty confident you’ll work well together,” and past murders are kind of important in that determination.

    But a lot of dating sites (maybe a majority) are still just a place to put a profile, perhaps with a simple algorithm that says something along the lines of, “You like wine. You like wine. Date!” (Hell, that’s barely an “algorithm.”) These sites shouldn’t have to do background checks and shouldn’t be expected to.

  19. Baelzar says:

    Here’s an idea…

    …howzabout somebody could START a dating site that offers background checks?

    That way, we wouldn’t have to force this stupid idea on everybody! WOOT!

  20. BradenR says:

    Can this be any worse than rentafriend.com? Now that’s one site I would avoid except for reading amusement.

  21. Enduro says:

    I just had to kill my debit card and get a new number because someone got a hold of it and went to match.com of all places. I looked it up and it’s a pretty common thing, I guess. I’m assuming a lot of the lovely “ladies” on match.com are the same creeps who got my number. (FYI: Match.com quickly refunded the money and said they cancelled the bogus account)

    • madanthony says:

      Dating sites are sometimes used by Nigerian and other scammers as a way to troll for victims. The person who stole your credit card was probably looking for marks, not for love.

      • Enduro says:

        That’s what I assumed, I put “ladies” in quotes to communicate that but I guess it wasn’t clear.

  22. Jacquilynne says:

    People who join these sites need to recognize that they’re taking a risk, and do everything they can to remain safe — first couple of meetings in public places, don’t do one-night hookups, etc. All background checks would do is give people a false sense of security, and make them less cautious than they should be. After all, every rapist has a first victim.

    • msbask says:

      I couldn’t agree more!!

      Add “don’t get in a car with a stranger” to the list as well. I also used to make sure that someone always knew exactly who I was going out with (name, address, phone # and any other info I knew), plus had someone call twice while I was on the first date with strict instructions that if I didn’t answer, call the police! Paranoid? Maybe.

      Also, how is meeting a stranger you found online any different that meeting a stranger you found in a bar? I’m not sure it is.

      • mythago says:

        Isn’t the point of dating sites that you’re not just meeting people in a bar, but you’re supposedly meeting people the site says are a good match for you?

        • Jacquilynne says:

          Good match based on questions they answered to a computer — which can’t detect if they are a) an honest, great person b) a lying rapist or c) an honest rapist, who would be a good match for you, other than the rapist part.

    • outoftheblew says:

      Wow, I just posted a comment saying almost exactly the same thing.

  23. MrsLopsided says:

    Would YOU sign up for a dating site knowing that they were going to do a background check on YOU and troll your past – criminal background check, credit bureau check, and contact your relatives, acquaintances, and employers to verify your identity and profile? Would you pay for that?

  24. MercuryPDX says:

    I think NJ has it right; prominent disclosure they don’t do criminal background checks on the website is enough.

    This way sites that DO want to offer that level of service (and appropriately charge for it) can use that as a selling point.

    As with everything else, caveat emptor.

  25. msbask says:

    Not unless they background check everyone entering the bar on Friday nights.

  26. SteveinOhio says:

    There may be room in the market for a website to offer background checks, but they certainly shouldn’t be required. Like craigslist or facebook, they simply provide a forum for people to connect. What you do with your connections is your own business/fault.

  27. thisistobehelpful says:

    Yes. If you’re paying more in monthly fee than at least a cursory criminal background check would cost, yes. There’s probably a discount available for someone who’s doing it constantly. Or at least the possibilty for negotiating a discount.

  28. TasteyCat says:

    Can they do anything about “average build” being used in place of “morbidly obese”?

    • JF says:

      +1

      Before I met my husband I had a match who was over 400 pounds when I had specifically stated I wanted someone who was fit enough to keep up with my active lifestyle…… Even if his weight hadn’t been an issue, the total lack of reading skills or caring about what I said that early on were a non-starter.

  29. azzie says:

    … and the next thing you know is dating sites selling your background checks to advertising partners!

    Every advertiser’s dream come true.

    -Alex

  30. carlathecommander says:

    And what is to stop a criminal from entering someone else’s information for the background check? When I worked at an internet company, I ran across stolen identities all the time and it was usually a family member.

  31. RogueWarrior65 says:

    So let’s see here. They do background checks. Women always go for the bad boys. They reject male applicants unless they have an arrest record in an effort to boost their “match” rate. Once again, the nice guys get screwed and not in a good way.

  32. sopmodm14 says:

    they should be able to at least filter out known, convicted criminals

    criminal background checks are a cost, and should be factored into online membership fee(s), which will no doubt decrease enrollment.

    online dating services should be required to post disclaimers or waivers of liability by posting up common sense tips like, going on dates with a friend who can observe or “conveniently” show up and end dates early, or reminding ppl to tell someone who, what,when a date is.

  33. missmuse says:

    I can’t see the dating sites doing this effectively. The free dating sites attract the weirdos, skeezo’s, psycho’s more than the paid ones too. I use http://www.weopia.com for virtual dating before meeting anyone from a dating site to know them better first. It’s worked so far and I’ve avoided at least 3 serial killers and a few kooks. I found out about it from a girlfriend that met her fiance using it, and she wasn’t even thinking to meet him, but they hit it off so well on the virtual date.

    There has been at least 3 background check websites for dating that I know of but they seems to disappear as fast as they show up. Even a background check doesn’t assure you that your date isn’t going to be a nut job. I’ve used online dating on and off enough to know.
    There is no perfect solution. The best you can probably do is talk to them to figure out if they’re playing with a full deck or a few fries short of a happy meal.

  34. outoftheblew says:

    I met my husband through what I would consider one of the top three well-known personals websites (okay … it was Yahoo). People need to treat it like any other situation where you’re meeting someone you don’t know but might like to know more. Meet in a public place for “coffee”. If it goes well, make plans to meet again (in a public place). Etc.

    It would annoy me to have had to have gone through a background check, and I think it could lead to a false sense of security if they say “Hey, this person never got caught for doing anything”, one might decide to take fewer precautions.

  35. Telekinesis123 says:

    Holy shit people does the govt have to baby sit everything you do?

  36. Clyde Barrow says:

    Well I suppose that background checks is a good idea regarding the times so why not. I think it’s only natural that it was going to get to this anyhow. I don’t think that you can be too careful and it’s always better to err on the side of safety.

    • Telekinesis123 says:

      Yeah great idea, why don’t we start getting background checks for being able to walk outside, isn’t that a million time more dangerous than online? Yes govt we’re babies take care of us, my brain doesn’t work!

  37. brown eyes says:

    A background check is not going to replace common sense, healthy skepticism and good intuition. A few simple suggestions, talk on the phone a few times before the first meeting, meet in a public place in the daytime, don’t have any alcohol at the first meeting, and run fast if they don’t give you a phone number, a valid email address and enough personal information for you to see if they are for real. I am working on a book regarding older people and their dating experiences with on=line services. Most important point…if they don’t have a job or a place to live, DO NOT GET INVOLVED.

  38. Difdi says:

    There are quite a few crime fanboys and fangirls out there, having a checkbox to toggle criminal records being acceptable, or certain crimes being unacceptable, is not likely to reduce the number of hits by very much.

  39. Sally says:

    Not required, but adding background checks would probably be good for business.

  40. wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

    I think it’s overkill because anyone who meets someone on one of these sites should understand the risks involved and act accordingly. If they don’t, they are too dumb to be dating.

  41. larkknot says:

    On one hand, I’ve previously validated myself on such a site by sending in a photo of my driver’s license. On the other hand – I also don’t use sites that I have to pay for. I don’t expect any protection from creeps other than my own research abilities – and quite frankly, most of the ones who have been in jail seem to be proud enough of it to include it in their profiles or initial messages.

  42. MMMCoffee says:

    I don’t think criminal background checks is necessary, but how about doing a bit more scrutiny on those who claim to be aid workers working in Nigeria (or elsewhere far away) and just need a bit of cash to get home, save some child’s life, etc, etc.? How about just warning the site’s users: This is a SCAM, albeit a very convincing one sometimes. Match.com, e-harmony, etc are full of people willing to go to great lengths to convince you to send them thousands of dollars and I don’t think users are properly warned about this at all.

  43. JF says:

    I think DOING a background check can cause a false sense of security. Without it I imagine more people are on the alert for the “pervy creep” factor. Background checks can miss things.

    What kind of liability would the sites open themselves up to by doing background checks and then missing something that just didn’t show up?

  44. Link_Shinigami says:

    Make it an option. Have it so that if you opt for a background check, you can view people that had them too. Make it so to view/contact people that had background checks, you had to have one too. That way, both parties are going in safe and knowing they are safe.

    Let those that think it’s a violation or something stupid date each other.

  45. Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

    Mr. Government
    PLEASE protect me form myself. I make poor decisions all the time and I need someone else to be in charge of my life. I would especially appreciate it if you could transfer personal responsibility to those rich lucrative businesses around me. Let them bear the burden of my personal well being and safety – regardless of what my actions are. It would also be most helpful if you could do so at the expensive of privacy and liberty. Don’t forget to make those businesses liable in case I still screw up or in case they do not conceive of ever possible negative outcome that I could possibly create from my own actions or inaction – like someone finding out my personal background and using it to commit a crime against me.
    Thanks!

  46. pot_roast says:

    There has been a site around for ages that does background checks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True_%28dating_service%29

    They’ve had financial problems, but they’re lobbying for laws requiring sites to disclose whether or not they’ve done background checks.
    I hope that they do background checks on women as well because the way it is now, they’re singling out men. At least True’s ads were.. “Is HE a felon? Is HE married?” I knew of at least two married women that were using match.com for hookups because it was like plucking fish out of a barrel for them.

    So, no. I don’t think this should be up to the sites at all. There has to be some level of personal responsibility left in this world.

  47. spazztastic says:

    Should bartenders be doing background checks, too?

  48. Intheknow says:

    As long as the site tells you up front about the dangers of online dating and informs you that they do not do background checks. That’s something I can do if I want to – probably much better and verifiable.

  49. Murphdog says:

    Here is the problem….a lot of states do not make criminal backround information available. In NJ there is no way you will be able to find the information unless they are lodged in a prison. A police officer is prohibited from running a random criminal history check. What do you think the dating site will come up with? Not the case in all states but I see fail here.