Online dating is getting a little bit safer now that three major sites, Match.com, eHarmony and Spark Networks (the operator of JDate and Christian Mingle) have agreed to join forces with California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris to protect members by running background checks on prospective subscribers.
While some of the dating sites have already implemented screening of prospective members, this announcement is the first joint effort with law enforcement and Attorney General Harris is encouraging other dating sites to implement similar policies.
The participating sites will now check subscribers against national sex offender registries; anyone who is a registered sex offender will be barred from the online dating services. The sites will also be screening for violence and identity theft as well as checking the accuracy on client applications. Any criminal information gathered from the dating sites will be provided to the Attorney General’s office.
The sites will also increase their online safety tools with “rapid abuse reporting systems,” which will give members access to a website, email address and/or phone number to report suspected criminal activity. Further implementations include online dating safety education, guidance for fraud prevention and instruction on how to meet people safely offline.
The increased use of online dating sites has also brought an increase in financial scams and even physical abuse. A Match.com client sued last year, saying she was raped on a date with a repeat sex offender she had met through the site. The alleged attacker had at least six prior sex offense convictions.
In 2011, 40 million Americans used an online dating service and more than $1 billion was spent on online dating website memberships. Of couples married in the last three years, one in six met through an online dating service and one in five people have dated someone they met through an online dating site.
“Consumers should be able to use websites without the fear of being scammed or targeted,” said Attorney General Harris. “It is a priority for this office to ensure consumers are protected online, and companies who are creating in the Internet space have a continued opportunity to innovate and thrive.”
While these measures are promising, not every would-be sex offender can be screened out. Common sense is paramount, and safe online dating tips include using the online dating services email system, meeting in public places and letting friends know vital information about the person you are meeting.