Internet Dating Bill Passes Illinois House – But it Does More Harm than Good

March 30, 2012

A new piece of legislation designed to increase safety of online daters passed by a vote of 83-26 in the Illinois House Thursday. The legislation, HB4083, would require all internet dating services operating in Illinois to show whether or not they conduct background checks on their members.

According to Stltoday, one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Michelle Mussman said the purpose of the bill is to help usersbecome more savvy and take better steps to protect yourselves” from sophisticated online predators. “A lot of them aren’t just another nice guy looking to meet a nice girl. This is a predator looking for prey,” Mussman said. “They’re going to look for somebody who’s vulnerable and they’re going to trick you into revealing information about yourself that they can use to their advantage.”

Opposing the legislation on grounds that it overreaches the state’s legislative responsibility. State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-LaGrange, said adults should be responsible for their own safety when using online dating services, reports Stltoday. “If they’re going to participate in this type of social networking, they have responsibilities to perform their own due diligence. This is overstepping what is necessary,” Durkin said.

Adding to the dissent, State Rep. Dennis Reboletti joined in calling the protective disclaimer unnecessary. And he gets to the core of my concern when he said, People go on dates all the time without the aid of or and we don’t have any requirements for those individuals. Websites providing disclaimers revealing that they conduct background checks could do more harm than help. “What if people lie? Now we have the situation where we think there’s a background check and all the information is validated but in reality it isn’t. Aren’t we actually giving people a false sense of security?”

Mussman countered this objection by saying there will always be people who manage to fool background checks. “Any sort of background check is never a full proof method, Mussman said. “We’re not going to catch every single person, but not being able to catch everybody is not a reason to not take any step forward.”

4 reasons this legislation should not pass

While the goal of protecting online daters sounds good, the problems this legislation create are significant and the gain dubious.

  1. Dangerously false sense of security – Most background checks will not reveal a problem.For example, less than 10% of sexual predators are ever caught and convicted for their crimes – so even if a background check caught every registered sex offender, the sense of safety users felt would be dangerously false. Add to this that most stalkers, swindlers, etc. aren’t caught and the enormity of the misrepresentation of safety becomes apparent.The best any dating website can do is to say that the site cannot guarantee that daters will not behave badly, that users must use caution when meeting anyone – whether they met online or offline, and provide clearly discoverable safety guidelines for users to follow.
  2. Falsely banning legitimate users. Many background checks have inaccurate ‘false negative’ information. Consumers do not have access to see the information pulled about them in background checks, and are therefore unable to challenge or correct information that inaccurately claims negative behavior. People with the same or similar names for example may have ‘data bleeding’ where the information from one person negatively impacts another. In other cases victims of identity theft may appear to be someone with a criminal record when in fact it was the thief who committed the crime, not the innocent victim.
  3. Places an unreasonable burden on online dating companies.  I’m not a lawyer, but this legislation would seem to favor dating sites that claim they perform background checks – essentially forcing others to perform the same checks to compete, in spite of the issues just highlighted with background checks. Additionally, it would seem to open the dating sites to increased risk of lawsuits by any user who comes to harm from contact through the site with any form of criminal – rapist, swindler, stalker, etc.
  4. The false sense of trust gives criminals greater freedom. The implied safety assurance that a prominent notice that ‘our users have been screened’ sends would be a godsend to criminals of every ilk as it means users would be less likely to remain vigilant against their exploits.

In other words, while on the surface the legislation sounds like motherhood and apple pie, in reality it makes online dating a potentially more dangerous endeavor.

If you want greater safety for online daters, encourage sites to provide excellent safety materials so users are armed with the skills and knowledge they need to protect themselves, and encourage sites to have strong moderation to be watching for issues and to respond to issues raised by their members.



Ah, the Month for Love…. And Romance Scams

February 3, 2011

You know February is around the corner when your first romance scam of the year arrives. Like florist reminders and chocolatier ads, these internet exploits have become the internet’s herald of early spring.

Romance scams are confidence tricks leveraging the victim’s desire for a relationship to achieve their goals – which typically include at least one or more of these:

  1. Getting your money – Once the scammer has bonded with you or buttered you up, they:
    1. May directly ask for a loan, ask you to cover a debt, ask you to donate to a charity they work for; or ask you to cash a check/money order (it WILL bounce, and you WILL be out the money), or to move in with you so they can be a freeloader.
    2. May  indirectly exploit you by collecting enough of your information to steal your identity; or gaining access to your home and important documents/credit cards;
  2. Gaining sexual services – this may be willingly from you (and something you’re looking for as well at which point it isn’t a scam), by force from you, or, if you have minors in your care, the real goal may be to exploit the child/children.
  3. Enlisting your unwitting help in a larger crime – like accepting, forwarding, or sending packages or money for them; or getting you to commit financial fraud on their behalf, etc. Some victims even knowingly abet in these crimes out of their need for the attention they are receiving.

Romance scammers tactics include laying on the charm, affection, understanding, sympathy, sex appeal, and so on, to groom a victim into dependency on getting attention from the scammer. Once hooked, these tactics may continue to be the way the scammer works, or one of three other aspects can come into play:

  1. Appealing to you to rescue them in some way – maybe by paying off their debt, buying them a ticket, taking them into your home.
  2. Blackmail – as part of your ‘courtship’ you may be asked to send images or messages that you would not want posted for the world to see. Never send messages or photos you would not want made public. Scammers ask for compromising material so they can blackmail victims.
  3. Other threats – depending on the amount of information a scammer has been able to collect about your identity, location, family, health, etc., many types of threats can be made to intimidate, control, or coerce you into doing what the scammer wants.

The risk of scammers and criminals should not stop you from seeking meaningful relationships online; it should just compel you to use caution. Use these links to learn more about spotting scams and spam and eleven safety tips for online dating.


1 in 5 New Relationships Begin on an Online Dating Site

June 3, 2010

According to new research commissioned by people are using online dating services to meet new people in ever increasing numbers: 1 in 5 singles have dated someone they met on an online dating site, 1 in 5 new relationships now begin on an online dating site, and 1 in 6 couples getting married first met on an online dating site.

For couples getting married, that statistic places online dating sites third in ways to meet a partner – behind school/work and friends/family, but ahead of bars, clubs, social events, and through their places of worship.

According to the research here’s the breakdown on where people who’ve married in the past three years met their spouses:

  • Through Work/School 36%
  • Through Friend/Family Member 26%
  • Via Online Dating Site 17%
  • Through Bars/Clubs/Other Social Events 11%
  • Through their Church/Place of Worship 4%
  • Other 7%

Online dating has only been around for about 15 years. But those 15 years have done more to change how couples meet than the preceding 2,000 years. Amazing. Just be sure to follow the Eleven safety tips for online dating and discover who you’ll meet.


Join the Podcast: A Safer Internet With Linda Criddle

October 19, 2009

saferdates1Upcoming Radio/Podcast Show: 10/27/2009 4:00 PM (Pacific Time)

Call-in Number: (718) 766-4680

Join Safer Dates as we celebrate “National Cyber Security Awareness Month” by interviewing Linda Criddle, president of the Safe Internet Alliance, an organization devoted to promoting a safe Internet and better education to protect all users, especially children, teens and the elderly, from Internet corruption, crime, and abuse by driving initiatives through industry, education, government, and non-profit entities.

Linda is also the founder and President of LOOKBOTHWAYS, Inc., a company that develops internet safety technologies and products while providing product design, safety reviews, and other consulting services to leading technology companies, regulatory bodies, and law enforcement, as well as offering practical assistance to consumers navigating the online world through a consumer internet safety site,

Linda collaborates with local, state, national and international law enforcement agencies, teaching how to understand and track predators online. She works with government organizations in the U.S. and around the world to advise on, and prepare, internet safety regulations and legislation. In addition, Linda is an author of the award-winning consumer-oriented books, “Look Both Ways: Help Protect Your Family on the Internet,” and “Using the Internet Safely for Seniors For Dummies.” She has also written “Internet Safety for Educators”, a distance-learning course offered through Universities.

Our interview will explore tools to empower you to have a safer internet experience. The future of the internet is up to all of us. So let us join together and help promote an internet ethic of respect and accountability online.

Hope you can join us,


Date Check Tramples Privacy, Calls it “Look up before you hook up.”

October 1, 2009

Date Check, a new mobile application by Intelius, that purports to allow daters to learn about the background of potential partners instantly, is perhaps the most egregious infringement on privacy since Google launched their Street View application. (Learn how to remove your home from Street View)

Their press materials claim “Today’s dating scene is tough to navigate, which is why Intelius developed Date Check, a free mobile app that deciphers fact from fiction in the palm of your hand. Simply enter a name, phone number or email address and instantly get accurate and comprehensive results. With features like Sleaze Detector, Compatibility, Net Worth, Interests and Living Situation you can be in the know on the go.”

While the picture painted in Intelius’ press release is rosy, the real opportunities this invasive functionality represents are far more sinister.  No one should be so naïve to think this application will only be used by daters wanting to be safe. The service is best suited for exploitation – harassment, ID theft, robberies, extortion, stalking, and other forms of abuse. The service also comes with the real risk of mixing identities, and smearing the good names of upright citizens.

You don’t have to have skeletons in the closet to take offense at the public exposure of such information as who lives with you, the names and ages of relatives, your income, or the number of rooms in your home.

The table below lists the information DateCheck returns “instantly” when someone enters a name (or cell phone number:


Whats really at stake here are four fundamental questions for which answers are past due:

  1. Should companies be able to sell your personal information without explicit permission?
  2. What information about private citizens should the government expose publicly vs. protect?
  3. What fundamental rights should we have over our own privacy?
  4. How much information do we have the right to know about others?

Until there is public debate and consensus on these questions, your privacy will continue to be trampled by services like Date Check. Unless you speak up, you risk two things: 1) that the needed conversations don’t take place and your privacy becomes a quaint thing of the past, or at a minimum you will have no voice in the outcome.

Intelius attempts to deflect objections to its monetization of your privacy (though the service is free to use that doesn’t mean they aren’t making money) by pointing out that they only ‘search publicly available information’. This is equivalent to a kid caught bullying a teacher by placing their phone number and address everywhere  using the defense of ‘I found her info in the phone book’. It doesn’t make the action appropriate or mitigate culpability.

The government is guilty of exposing your personal information – government records are a primary source of information for Intelius. In spite of millions of dollars spent in public service messages urging consumers to protect their private information, government records are one of your biggest risk factors. I consistently find Social Security Numbers, Loan documents, Power of Attorney documents, as well as the more standard information found on birth, marriage, divorce & death certificates and property records on government sites.

Laws relating to public access of information are in dire need of updating to reflect the impact of new technologies.

We stand at the crossroads of a fundamental communication and information shift and we must decide on the rules and roles of this new environment or they will be decided for us.

I believe privacy matters. I believe that your right to information about me is not as valid as my right to keep my information private. I believe that the risk of abuse to individuals is heightened when criminals and abusers can stalk your every move, gain the information needed to steal identities, locate your family members, and see your financial assets.