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Online Dating Companies Work To Keep Clients Safe

Date: 2006-10-09

Each year, the search for love has millions of Americans turning to the internet.

Knowing that online dating can come with risks, more and more companies are taking steps to keep their customers safe, but even the companies that say ‘safety comes first’ may be promising more than they can deliver.

True.com is an online dating company based in Las Colinas. It's one of the only dating websites that perform criminal background checks on potential clients.

CBS 11 News investigated how thorough those background checks actually were and came up with some surprising results.

Robert Wells slipped through the cracks. He's a convicted child molester and a registered sex offender, but managed to register on true.com.

"If we find you have a felony conviction, we're going to turn you in for wire fraud. We’re going to turn you in to the parole board,” says Herb Vest, true.com CEO. “We're not friends with the criminals, and we let them know that."

True.com settled a lawsuit with Wells that will banish him from the cyber-dating world. But how did they miss him in the first place?

True.com uses a criminal screening company called Rapsheets. Website officials say the company has information on about 94% of the felony convictions in the United States.

According to Vest, Wells lives in a county that does not provide criminal data to certain companies. CBS 11 did a quick search on the government-funded national sex offender registry and found Wells immediately.

Vest says the sex offender registry isn't commercially feasible for them to use. "We'd have to sit there and go through ten million members manually, and that just doesn't work," he said. There are just too many clients to do that, he says.

True.com uses a service that can perform thousands of background checks instantaneously, even though that service can't capture everyone's criminal past.

"There's no database, there's nothing I could do to possibly get all of the convicted felons," Vest said.

Website officials say a new, more thorough data provider will debut early next year and should nab about 96% of criminals - a 2% improvement.

Despite safeguards criminals like Robert Wells might still have a shot at online love and Vest says that makes him wonder about how many other criminals they might have missed.

“Absolutely. I think about that first thing in the morning, and I think about that first thing at night and our safety officer does, too," he says.

An online expert, who spoke to CBS 11 News, says you should never rely completely on a background check promised by any company and there are databases available to help you perform your own check.





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