A Match Made in Hell

10 ways to stay safe when dating online

Posted Feb 25, 2013

Overcoming nerves in the pit of one’s stomach; walking up to someone who looks cute; rallying the courage to ask someone out; these are all antiquated strategies for dating.

Cyberspace has provided a remedy for those nerves and a screen into the lives of thousands of dating hopefuls. The ability to view numerous intriguing profiles and communicate via sending a ‘wink’, ‘poke’, IM, or email, creates an illusion of intimacy that has been linked to love and disaster.

Online dating is ubiquitous in the modern world. Sites like Match.com, eHarmony and OkCupid, provide an efficient way to “meet” thousands of other singles. The sites even allow customers to select preferred criteria and construct a digitalized connection.

Boasting huge successes in engagements and marriages, these companies are extremely popular and valued in the tens of millions of dollars.

Not everyone is happy with online dating, however, and these websites have faced their share of legal action. Founded in 1993, Match.com, for example, has faced class action lawsuits for allegations ranging from secretly employing people as “date bait” to matching people with non-paying customers.

Women have sued after being raped or attacked by men whom they became acquainted with through Match.com. After a rape allegation in 2011, the site proactively decided to begin screening new members against the national sex offender registry.

Still, lawsuits persist and the public’s expectations for these sites continue to be unrealistic. One of the more publicized suits against a dating website came from a Las Vegas woman, Mary Kay Beckman, 50, who sued Match.com for nearly $10 million after being brutally stabbed by a man she met through the site.

Allegedly, they met several times before Beckman ended the relationship. Months later, Wade Ridley, 53, was accused of hiding in her garage and attacking her with a butcher’s knife. While he was in custody, he confessed to killing an Arizona woman he had also met on Match.com. While in jail, he took his own life before he could be tried for either crime. Tragedies like this, beg the question:

Are Dating Sites Responsible for Members' Safety?

No. The service they provide is offering a high volume of men and women looking to meet people. Dating sites do not provide background checks or criminal checks or credit checks or any other kind of checks. That is the responsibility of individuals who embark on meeting someone new.

From a legal standpoint, dating websites are not culpable when love goes awry and criminal activity happens. Allegations of negligence, misrepresentation, deceptive trade, failure to warn, and infliction of emotional distress, do not hold water.

Cyberspace dating can be safe only when its members keep their heads out of space. Very often people searching for love will set up expectations and become enthusiastic after viewing a catchy profile and nice picture. Some guileless members will begin to fantasize about what they want the person in that profile to be. Quickly customers create an imagined individual who fills some archetype of who they think they are looking for. This makes it highly likely for members to put down their guard and even overlook obvious warning signs when they meet their idealized match.

Filling out lengthy profile questionnaires and narrowing down searches can make finding romance efficient. Unfortunately, it can also lull naïve members into a false sense of security.

Buyer Beware!

It’s not the responsibility of dating websites to check out the background of the people you meet! Who you meet and date is up to you. Some companies, like Match.com have graciously gone so far as to offer tips to help members avoid enchantment by duplicitous individuals.

To help everyone get a little luckier with finding love, some more useful tips are included below. This is not all-inclusive, however, and I would warn that when you go offline and meet individuals it comes with a risk – one that should be assumed for Internet users in their online quest for romance.

10 Tips for Safe Online Dating

1) Be Picky! – Don’t respond to just anyone. Keep your standards high and tailor your criteria to what really works for you

2) Don’t Share Personal Information - Even a seemingly benign question like ‘where do you work?’ is inappropriate

3) Good Grammar or Gone – Granted some people are not English enthusiasts but poor basic use of our native language could be indicative of a larger problem

4) Disrespect = Deal breaker! - Cut off contact with anyone who uses profanity or other derogatory language on or off-line. Disrespectful people are more likely to be abusive than their courteous counterparts

5) Email Enthusiast - Drop someone who won’t commit to meeting fairly soon. They’re either too awkward to meet anyway, or they’re hiding something sinister

6) Stay Social – There is safety in numbers so always meet at a very public venue and never in private

7) Arrive Alone and Go Home Alone – Don’t share your address with a complete stranger.

8) Go Dutch! - Keep things neutral and in the “friends zone”, a good place to start when you’re just getting to know each other (you’re not really dating yet; just meeting and deciding if you want to date!)

9) Stay Tuned to Signs of Mental Instability - Be cautious of anyone who shares too much personal information. This could represent some mood or personality instability and problems with boundaries

10) Keep it Real – Many people romanticize their match before ever meeting them. Don’t get emotionally invested until you’ve actually met the person and gotten to know the real them

Follow along at https://twitter.com/HelenMFarrellMD

About the Author

Helen M. Farrell, M.D., is a psychiatrist with Harvard Medical School. She researches forensic psychiatry and violence.

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