I have no feeling on which way the new lawsuit against Match.com, reported here at the Huffington Post will (or should) turn out, but the case highlights a feature of online dating that has puzzled me for some time.

According to the report, the plaintiff (identified for now as Jane Doe) was sexually assaulted by someone she met on Match.com, and claims that the dating service should have performed background checks on the people it features on its site.


You probably wouldn’t buy a car without knowing its crash test results. You check out crime rates and schools before you buy a home. Yet if you’re like many in the U.S. you may think nothing of entering into a relationship with someone with whom you have no friends in common. Whatever personal story that person gives you, you’ve got nobody to check with to see whether you’re getting an accurate picture.

What’s puzzled me is that with all the available information we have about people, strangers persist in becoming intimate with one another even though the dating sites usually warn that they have done no screening as to the participants’ backgrounds. I talked about this in an interview with PBS done last year.

The risk you run is right there in eHarmony’s safety tips (“Do your own research”). Other dating sites advise you to “do a little digging” on the other person. Some have it right on the front page that they have performed no background check on their subscribers. Others review personal information to make sure customers are appropriate, but take at face value the information submitted.

Was there really that job with the large company in Europe until last year? Really no marriages until now? Have there been arrests, court orders or other legal proceedings in this person’s past, perhaps in a state you don’t know they lived in a few years back? What about if their history is half in another other country with non-electronic records?

Even the best background check won’t give you 100 percent certainty that someone is all he says he is. But if someone is lying to you and that information can be found, wouldn’t you want to find out sooner rather than later?