Should Online Dating Sites Do Background Checks?

Ruben Buell, president of True.com, said that since the company launched in 2003, it has conducted background checks on every person that signs up for the site.

"We wanted to change the way dating sites were perceived and the way people used them so that when someone came online they had a much better understanding that the person they were talking to was not a convicted felon," he said.

True.com: Background Checks Are Better Than Nothing at All

Buell said True.com screens out convicted felons, including sex offenders, in every state. True also makes members confirm their marital status. If the site discovers that a married person has attempted to join, the company says it will turn them in for wire fraud.

Buell said the dating service welcomes thousands of people to the site a day, but rejects about 2-3 percent. He said that's in line with national statistics that indicate that about 2 percent of the population are convicted felons.

While competitors may argue that True's imperfect service gives clients a false sense of security, Buell said the screening process is better than nothing at all.

"No system in the world is bullet-proof," he said. "Nothing is perfect but these databases do cover 95 percent of the population of the U.S."

Choosing not to do background checks because they're not totally foolproof, he said, is like a police department deciding not to pursue murderers because they won't be able to catch everyone.

True's screening process doesn't catch everyone, but it catches the majority, Buell said. The company's website also discloses to members that the background checks are not a perfect safety solution and that they should still be careful.

Users of Dating Sites View Background Checks With Caution

Mark Brooks, a consultant to online dating sites and editor of Online Personals Watch, said the issue of background checks has been a controversial one for the industry for years.

A few years ago, several states considered legislation on the issue, he said, but thus far only New Jersey has an Internet dating safety law. It requires that sites provide users with safety notices and inform users if they don't conduct background checks on members.

As Internet dating sites increasingly compete with social networking sites, he said they do face more pressure to provide the security of a site like Facebook, which lets users see the company potential dates keep.

But Brooks said unless dating services use them as a marketing point, like True.com, they are mostly wary of offering background checks on their sites.

"One the one hand, I think that it's a key differentiator for the dating industry to offer these kinds of checks, in theory. But in practice, users view these kinds of checks with great concern," he said.

Even the mention of background checks, he said, could make users skeptical about the kind of people they might meet on a dating site.

Online Dating Sites Already Offer Layers of Protection

He also said that the lag time in updating sex offender and felony databases doesn't make the manpower and financial expense of background checks worth it to most dating sites.

But he added that the millions of people who made the online dating industry a $1.2 billion business in 2009 shouldn't worry. Not only do sites monitor and remove users for various kinds of abuse, including spamming, scamming and obscene online behavior, the medium itself provides a level of security.

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