Finding your mate online is about to get a little safer. Match.com, the Internet dating site, has agreed to conduct background checks on its members in order to settle a lawsuit brought by 54-year-old Carole Markin, who was raped by a man she met on the dating site. The man, 67-year-old, Alan Wurtzel had six prior convictions for sexual offenses.
Mark Webb, Markin's attorney, said, "When you're right and you can show you're right … and you can get a big huge company to agree that change has to happen, it's a wonderful thing." Webb expects the other big dating sites like E-Harmony to follow Match.com's lead and institute background checks.
Prior to Markin's lawsuit, Match.com was not conducting background checks of any kind on its members.
"Before we filed the lawsuit, we asked them to do federal, state and local checks for sex offenders. They refused. We filed the lawsuit, and within three days they reversed their position and said, O.K., we'll do federal. We said, That's not enough. Now yesterday they have finally announced they will do all three," said Webb.
Doing a background check with all levels of government is particularly important, said Webb, because an offender like Wurtzel would not have been exposed by just looking for his name on the federal sex offender registry. He was only listed in the LA county registry.
Like millions of single women -- and men -- Markin, a Los Angeles entertainment executive, was looking for love online when she signed up with Match.com.
She had had several previous positive experiences with men she met through Internet dating "They were nice, successful guys. Maybe they shaved a few years off their age and a few pounds off their profile … but I never, ever thought I would be encountering a criminal," said Markin.
Markin met Wurtzel for coffee at a sidewalk café, but after a few dates she knew they wouldn't be a match. Because she had a broken foot, Markin allowed Wurtzel to drive her home after one of their dates. He entered her apartment and within minutes, Markin found herself pinned down. "It was very quick, like an ambush … he's a big man and I was just in shock," said Markin.
And Markin's experience isn't unique.
A few weeks ago, a Toronto woman was allegedly raped by a man she met on the dating website Plenty of Fish. And last year a Chicago man was convicted of raping a woman he met on Match.com.
A woman in Florida said she was raped by a University of Central Florida student she met on Match.com. It is unclear whether or not those cases involved men with prior records, but it does make clear how dicey it can be to meet and date people on the Internet. "Their tag line is something like, We have more marriages than any other website," said Webb. "Well, maybe that's true but maybe it's also true they have more rapes than any other website. I don't know,"
Markin said that she decided to sue because "it's not just a passive situation ... they do send you matches. So I thought they had some responsibility."
Why it took so long for sites like Match.com to institute basic security measures for their members is anyone's guess. Calls and e-mails to a spokesperson for the website were not returned to ABCNews.com. There are disclaimers on Match.com, and sites like it, that advise members to meet in public places and take other precautions.
Webb said he isn't 100 percent certain how Match.com will actually go about performing background checks on their members, but he believes it will involve using information culled from the credit cards every member must have to sign up and pay for the monthly service. He also sounded a cautionary note.
"This is not an insurance policy. The members have a responsibility too … nothing is ever going to be 100 percent foolproof," said Webb.
Alan Wurtzel pleaded "no contest" to a charge of sexual battery against Carole Markin last week. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 19.
As for Markin, she is proud that her lawsuit could protect people and that Match.com has agreed to make its service safer. She said she might "stick [her] toe in the [dating] water a little bit … I just don't know yet."