The Internet Dating Safety Act became law in the state of New Jersey, the home of Lovefraud, on January 13, 2008. It is supposed to take effect next month.
The law applies only to New Jersey, USA, residents. It mandates that any Internet dating site must disclose to New Jersey members, clearly and conspicuously, whether it conducts criminal background checks. “The disclosure shall be provided when an electronic mail message is sent or received by a New Jersey member, on the profile describing a member to a New Jersey member, and on the website pages of the Internet dating service used when a New Jersey member signs up,” the law states. “A disclosure shall be in bold, capital letters in at least 12-point type.”
“Internet dating companies bear a responsibility to their customers to provide basic screening to weed out threatening individuals,” said Richard J. Codey, president of the New Jersey Senate, one of the law’s sponsors. “At the very least, Internet daters should at least know whether or not their chosen Web service provides such screening. This will open a lot of people’s eyes to the dangerous aspects of Internet dating.”
Cody’s last sentence represents only possible good that will come from this law—people in New Jersey may become aware of the dangers of Internet dating. In reality, the law is bogus. Online dating companies will never be able to screen out threatening individuals, even if they tried.
True.com lobbied for law
New Jersey, I’m embarrassed to say, was the first state to fall for a lobbying initiative by the dating website True.com.
I wrote about True.com a year ago, in Lying, cheating and online dating. True.com claims that it does not allow married people to sign up, and that it conducts a criminal background check of all members. Users should not believe that True.com is safe.
How does True.com screen for married people? It asks them to certify that they are not married.
And how does True.com run a background check? According to the Internet Alliance, True.com provides the names people give when they sign up—without attempting to verify any identities—to Rapsheets.com, which then runs the names through its database of criminal records. Rapsheets.com gets its information from various state governments that choose to participate—and many of them don’t. Plus, state records are notoriously incomplete—many counties do not even report crimes to a publicly accessible central database.
The bottom line is that True.com claims to screen for married people and criminals, but it reality, its screening is almost useless.
The law is, however, a marketing coup. True.com has succeeded in legislating its business model.
Other big players in online dating—such as Match.com and Yahoo Personals—opposed the law. Match.com concluded that background checks were worthless. But many users won’t know that.
“If consumers see a state mandated warning on the page of one company that doesn’t do screenings, over and over again, they’re going to think something is wrong,” says Braden Cox of NetChoice, who testified against the bill during hearings. “They’ll search out a site that does these screenings, and they’ll not read about the failures of criminal screenings because these will be buried in the terms of service. The result—a mistaken sense of safety.”
For more information on True.com’s shenanigans, see Hot but virtuous is an unlikely match for online dating service, in the New York Times.
Falling in love with a fantasy
Online dating is a huge business. According to Juniper Research, an Internet consultancy, online dating represents a $700 million market. Every month, 20 million people visit online dating sites.
Here’s what these 20 million people should know: All Internet dating sites are dangerous.
As Lovefraud explains in Online Seduction, anyone who falls in love with someone over the Internet falls in love with a fantasy. You never really know who you’re talking to. And much of the interpersonal information you usually use in order to evaluate someone—tone of voice, body language—is missing.
Furthermore, background checks on dating sites will never work because:
- It is impossible to find out if someone is married.
- Criminal records databases are incomplete.
- Crimes like fraud are rarely prosecuted, so there is no conviction and no record.
- Domestic violence often goes unreported.
- Many people who do not have criminal records are still predators.
Lovefraud readers have told many, many stories of becoming involved with sociopaths who seemed to be upstanding members of their communities, but were, in fact, emotionally, financially and even physically abusive. Much of this behavior never gets exposed in court, either criminal or civil. Therefore, there is no record.
Report dating ads on Lovefraud
Lovefraud endorses no dating sites. In fact, we make every effort to block dating sites from advertising on Lovefraud. Every time we see one, we add it to our banned list.
Still, you may see dating ads on Lovefraud.com. This is because Google enables advertisers to target ads geographically. So a dating site for Australians, for example, may advertise on our website, and here in New Jersey, we’ll never see it.
If you see an ad for a dating site on Lovefraud, please let us know. Send the url (www.datingsite.com) to [email protected], and we’ll block it.
Listen to your instincts
Dating sites represent a perfect storm for cheaters, criminals and con artists. Predators see plenty of targets who have already admitted to being lonely. Predators can hide their true identities and intentions. Predators can work many targets at once, looking for one—or more—who will give them what they want.
Yes, there are normal people on dating sites who just want to meet someone nice. So if you’re going to use a dating site, here’s my advice: Only get involved with people who live near you. This way, you can spend quality time with them—and check them out.
Finally, with online dating, keep your eyes and ears open, be skeptical—not starry-eyed, and always listen to your instincts.