The Date-Checking Game
Internet relationships are often fraudulent and sometimes dangerous. But policing them is difficult.
It's easy for individuals to lie about themselves online, as many people have discovered. Because it's so easy, some state legislators think those looking for love through online dating services should be afforded more protection. Several states have considered bills this year that would require dating services to conduct background checks of all their users, or else disclose that they don't perform such a service.
"I was shocked when I found out that dating services, which market themselves as finding someone's true soulmate, don't provide any kind of even cursory background checks on people," says Illinois Representative John Bradley, whose background check bill passed the state House this year.
The legislation got no traction in the state Senate, though, due to industry opposition. Dot-com dating services recognize that a lot of their customers are fibbers. "There's sort of a joke in the industry that the average person lies by 10 pounds and 10 years," says Eric Straus, of Cupid.com. But that doesn't make them dangerous, he says.
Dangerous or not, the type of background check that such services are likely to perform is cursory and can easily be evaded by those seeking to conceal their true identities or criminal records. A more thorough investigation would cost far more than the price of membership, undermining the industry's business model.
There's some evidence that date-checking legislation may have as much to do with the ambitions of one company as with protecting the unwary. True.com, a firm that does background checks on its members, has lobbied hard for these bills and crafted the legislative language used in several states. The bills don't actually require any companies to perform the checks--just to admit they don't provide the same service that True.com does. "It's a PR stunt," says Straus. "Frankly, I wish I had thought of it."