March 5, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver

An increasing number of Americans today are online daters and many of us know someone who has found a spouse or is in a long-term relationship which began this way.

Washington, D.C.,-based Pew Research Center released a study finding that “Attitudes towards online dating are becoming more positive over time, but a significant percentage of the public views it skeptically.”

Santa Maria-based private detective Riley Parker agrees, and cautions that, “Before online transitions to going out on a real date, this is where you must be skeptical because you may not yet know who that person is in fact, only who they claim to be. As this is not like old-fashioned dating, you likely don’t know a thing about them with any degree of certainty. That means, you are at risk, emotionally, physically and financially.”

We asked Parker if he felt that dating — and establishing a relationship — was safer before the age of internet dating websites. “Yes, absolutely,” he replied, explaining two major differences in dating then and now.

“Then much of the risk in meeting the wrong kind of person had already been greatly reduced; You might have been classmates in high school or university, went to the same church, worked together, had the same hobby, and knew each other as friends well before any romantic interest developed.”

“However, the single most important difference today is the absence of friends who knew you both — and made the introduction. In modern terms, they had done the ‘vetting processes.” Interestingly, while private invetigators have always done backgrounds, before internet dating, it was rare to he hired to learn most of the things about a person that their friends, family and acquaintances already knew — and had communicated.

Today just about everyone has an online presence, “Which,” Parker observes, “is a door to discovery of what you want to know, and in some cases — if you’ve gotten too deep — what you wish had not learned. Often, the most challenging part of your research is in having proof of identity.

“Information contained in a passport, drivers license, the name on a business or credit card helps — but might not be conclusive — in establishing that the person’s real name. With what you have, the next steps are to:

Research their online presence using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others;

Observe how they conduct themselves with other people;

Learn who are their friends and contacts, both personal and professional.

But what if there are lingering doubts and you’re just not completely satisfied this person is who they claim to be?

“Then, research becomes even more personal, as you will need to contact some of these people yourself, or hire someone to determine who that person really is,” he notes.

“A Google search should reveal news stories, papers or articles they might have published, validate their educational claims and occupation, boards they sit on — in short, what they have done, where they’ve been, and likely, what others say about them. This will also help to locate family members — which is another area worthy of looking into if this relationship could become serious. Who and where are they? What are their occupations? Do they have a relationship with this person?”

Internet ads offer background and court record checks “In All 50 States.” But they can easily give a false sense of security if nothing negative show up, as Parker explains:

“None of the public access databases are accurate. More than half of the 44,000 courts in the United States do not report information to any data repository. In California, less than half of the 58 counties have ANY information available online.

“If you want to know if “J. Golo” has a record in Kings County, owns a home or homes, you probably need to know that his real name is “Jig Oh Low,” otherwise your research will fail.

“And if you want to know if he has a criminal record in San Luis Obispo County, you will need to hire a person to do that research. If your boyfriend was arrested there for spousal abuse, then you better know that “Oh” is his middle name and not try to find him unless you start with his correct first name.”

“A proper background, conducted by a licensed private investigator, has access to non-public data bases and sends investigators to actually search court records. The cost runs from $1,500 to $2,500,” Parker tells You and the Law.

That’s cheaper than a hospital bill or a cleaned out bank account.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.