Should Online Dating Sites Do Background Checks?

Everyone may deserve a chance at love, but do potential paramours have the right to know if the people they meet on Internet dating sites have a criminal past?

Earlier this month, a San Antonio man, who is also a convicted murderer, was searching for singles on the online dating site Match.com until a local paper revealed his past.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, because the Dallas-based website doesn't conduct background checks on members, Abraham Fortune's history remained under the radar until the paper picked up the news after reporting an unrelated story on Fortune. .

Once alerted to Fortune's record, Match.com removed his profile from the site. But the incident has prompted some in the blogosphere and beyond to wonder: should background checks be mandatory for members of online dating sites?

Match.com declined to comment specifically on the Fortune case. But Match.com General Manager Mandy Ginsberg said that though the company takes its members' security very seriously, it chooses not to conduct background checks because of inaccuracies and incomplete information in the felony and sex offender databases.

"If we provide background checks, can they be accurate? And if they're not, do we give a false sense of security to people on the site?" she said. "That's the big concern I have. If someone slips through the cracks… does that create more of a risk for people to not be more prudent?"

She said that regardless of where singles meet -- be it in a bar, at a nightclub or at the grocery store -- they should be cautious as they get to know strangers.

On Match.com, which welcomes more than 20,000 singles a day in the U.S., she said people should behave no differently.

"People should exercise caution," she said. "You always have to be smart."

But other people familiar with the world of Internet dating argue that, especially on sites that charge for the service, background checks should be part of the package.

"They're making a lot of money, they're charging a lot of money. I think doing a background check… should be integrated in almost every major dating site," said Stephany Alexander, founder of the free date screening site WomanSavers.com and author of the book "Sex, Lies and the Internet."

While it's true that singles can encounter sex offenders and convicted felons anywhere and not know it, Alexander said the difference in an online environment is that people can conceal their histories behind a computer screen.

With glamour shots and embellished personal descriptions, "it's easier to hide behind a fake profile," she said.

Dating Expert: It's Easy to Hide Behind a Profile

Julie Spira, cyber-dating expert and author of "The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online," said that it would be helpful for sites to at least give users the option to do a background check on other members.

Just as some sites let users pay for extra online services, she suggested that sites let users run background checks on those they encounter online, on a person-by-person basis.

"I belive that the site would be doing a better service for their members if they offered the opportunity for someone to do a background search," she said.

But while most online dating sites leave it up to individual members to suss out the suspicious strangers they meet on the Internet, executives behind one dating website say it's their business to keep their members as safe as possible.

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