Beware of Digital Don Juans

ByABC News
January 11, 2007, 3:15 PM

Jan. 12, 2007— -- Katherine Flansburg met her boyfriend through, a free online dating site. Several months later, they moved in together. Everything seemed to be going well until one morning when they were woken up by a loud banging on the door.

Flansburg, 26, a real estate agent in Santa Clarita, Calif., was shocked to discover that their unexpected guest was her boyfriend's wife. Moments later, a fuming Flansburg rummaged through her boyfriend's desk drawers and found recently filed paperwork for a legal marriage separation, as well as an IRS earnings statement that showed her boyfriend's salary was only one-quarter as much money as he'd told her.

"He was a piece of work," she recalled.

As long as people have been dating, there have been tales of liars, cheats and thieves. In the Internet age, with the anonymity offered by e-mail, and with people blogging about their bad experiences, it seems like there are more examples of nefarious behavior than ever.

In the pre-Internet days, if a woman wanted to find out about her beau's background, or if a man wanted to make sure his new girlfriend wasn't a gold digger, they would have to hire a private investigator, an expensive and time-consuming process. But 21st century daters have new tools that give them easy, inexpensive access to outlets through which they can run background checks on potential mates by tapping into databases and computerized records.

Flansburg was just one of 16 million Americans who have logged on for love, according to a 2006 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. If she had run a background check on her boyfriend before they moved in together and gotten serious, Flansburg may have found out that he was still married or that he'd lied about his earnings. More and more online daters are doing background checks, and some are discovering lies about their mate's age, education, employment and ownership.

The Los Angeles-based Corra Group, for example, used to specialize in employment background checks. But recently it launched a separate Web site for dating-related searches.

By signing up online for as little as $39, along with the name and birth date of a significant other, you can get information about a person's address history, property ownership, as well as any bankruptcy claims, civil judgments or aliases. For $20 more, the search includes criminal records, and an $89 fee gets you a nationwide federal crime search.

Co-founder Gordon Basichis, 59, has 20 years of investigatiive experience and says that requests for background checks are on the rise, especially around Valentine's Day. While about 75 percent of his clientele is female -- largely professionals in their mid-30s to 50s -- the Corra Group also receives nearly 25 percent of its dating-related inquiries from men. "If they met someone online, they just want to know -- 'who is this person?'" Basichis says. "People want to know if someone's full of it."

Many of his calls come from single moms who want to find out if their suitor has a sexual predator history. Other times, it's as basic as verifying a person's profession. And the information rolls in quickly. The company typically turns around a background check in one day.