States seek to make it safer to find love online

Apr 21, 2011 By SUSAN HAIGH , Associated Press
This undated booking file photo released by the Philadelphia Police Department shows Jeffrey Marsalis, who is serving two lengthy sentences for sexually assaulting several women, some he met on a dating website. State legislators in Connecticut, Texas and New York are considering legislation to provide more information to customers about the pitfalls of using the Internet to line up dates. (AP Photo/Philadelphia Police Department, File)

(AP) -- Something just didn't seem right when Ilana Angel met her Internet date at a bar. He furtively looked around the room and immediately suggested they go someplace else in his car, leaving hers behind at the bar.

Aware of the risks of that come with looking for love online, Angel thought better of the suggestion and said no.

"People are shady," said Angel, who writes a blog in Los Angeles about dating and being over 40. "You just have to be aware and you have to be careful."

Amid accounts of using matchmaking sites to find victims, lawmakers in several states are trying to pass legislation to help make online daters more aware of the potential pitfalls of the process. Bills are pending this year in Connecticut and Texas to provide users with more information to protect themselves.

Connecticut's bill, mirroring a law in New York, requires Internet dating services to provide a safety awareness notice during registration that offers advice such as never including your last name, email address, place of work, phone numbers or identifying information in an Internet profile. Similar laws are already on the books in Florida and New Jersey.

A Pennsylvania man, Jeffrey Marsalis, was sentenced in 2009 to life in prison in Idaho for sexually assaulting a woman in 2005. He was already serving a 21-year sentence in Pennsylvania for two other convictions. Authorities in Philadelphia portrayed Marsalis as a smooth talker who would meet women on the popular dating website, telling them he was an astronaut, doctor or a spy and then slip something into their drinks to incapacitate them.

"I've heard a lot of stories, not only people who had their physical safety endangered, but also financial safety," said Connecticut state Rep. Mae Flexer, a Democrat who authored the bill. "I've heard from a number of people who unfortunately met someone online, they gave them too much information and were damaged financially as well."

The Texas legislation requires online dating services to clearly disclose to customers whether they conduct criminal background checks on each member before allowing them to contact other members on the site. The same bill requires the sites to remind customers that background checks are not a perfect safety solution and they can be circumvented by criminals.

New York are considering a similar bill that would supplement last year's law. It would also require the companies to clearly notify users whether they conduct criminal background screenings. said Sunday that it will begin screening its users against the national sex offender registry. The announcement came after a California woman sued the site, saying she was sexually assaulted while on a second date by a man she met on She has claimed the assault could have been prevented with a proper background check.

A spokesman for said the company was already considering screening its users before the woman's lawsuit was filed. He said the timing of the decision was accelerated by the attention brought by the suit.

Donna Rice Hughes, CEO and president of Enough is Enough, a Virginia- based nonprofit that focuses on improving Internet safety for children and families, said it makes sense for corporate matchmaking websites to proactively take steps to make their services safer. She recalled how social networking sites used by many young people convened a task force in 2008, along with state attorneys general, and came up with ways to try and block access to sexual predators.

In 2009, MySpace announced how 90,000 sex offenders had been identified and removed from the social networking site.

"A good corporate leader needs to do that," said Rice Hughes, referring to proactive efforts to beef up safety measures. "The last thing they need for business is for somebody to get harmed by something through their site. ... They should be running their database against the sex offender registries. That's a no-brainer."

Alex Vasquez, founder of the L.A.-based blog, said not everyone in the online dating community likes the idea of background checks.

"It's definitely going to be a hot-button item because there's definitely that privacy issue," he said.

Vasquez recommends both women and men use common sense when meeting their online dates face-to-face. He said he's had some sketchy Internet dating experiences. In one instance, a woman lied about her background and wound up being about ten years older than she had portrayed herself, living in a rundown motel and essentially on the run from an abusive husband. She was still wearing her wedding ring when she met Vasquez.

"What if the guy had come out and decided to do something bad to me?" he said. "There's no guarantees. As convenient as online dating has become, there are still issues with safety. ... People just assume that it's safe."

Angel, a divorced mother who sometimes goes on two or three dates each week, writes the Keeping the Faith blog at

Despite the risks of online dating, she said she has few other options to finding true love.

"Dating is disgusting. It's disgusting and online dating is brutal," said Angel. "But I want to have a partner. I want to have a witness to the second half of my life."

Explore further: LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

4.5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories to check users in sex offender registry

Apr 18, 2011

(AP) -- Singles website said Sunday that it will begin screening its users against the national sex offender registry after a woman filed a lawsuit against the company saying she had been assaulted by someone she ...

Love on the information suitor highway

Mar 07, 2006

Angie Vasconcellos started dating online two years ago before she moved to Arizona but broke off the relationship before it got too serious.

Vt. mulls ban on aliases online for sex offenders

Feb 12, 2011

(AP) -- Vermont lawmakers are considering making it a crime for convicted sex offenders to use false names on social media sites like Facebook, after one such incident was reported in the state.

A third of us have used dating websites: study

Feb 14, 2011

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) conducted an online questionnaire with 12,000 couples from 18 countries, all of whom had regular access to the internet. They were asked a series of questions about whether ...

Recommended for you

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

Apr 18, 2014

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

Apr 18, 2014

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

Apr 18, 2014

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

( —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...