Over the last three years, the amount of people dating online has increased significantly.
In fact, the latest numbers from the Pew Research Center show that the number of adults 18 to 24 online dating has nearly tripled since 2013. For those 55 to 64, that number has doubled to 12 percent.
Of those connecting with people online, nearly two-thirds (or 66 percent) have met up with the person on a date.
They cover the basics: do not give out personal information, do you research and only meet in public. But, are there tips and resources that we're missing? Red flags that could keep you away from a potentially dangerous individual?
This month, Seattle authorities discovered the dismembered human remains of a mother in recycling bins and the prime suspect is reportedly someone she met online and had recently begun dating.
While specifics on that case are still being revealed, we spoke with Scottsdale police sergeant Ben Hoster and dating expert, Joann Cohen, about resources Arizonans can and should be using.
I know you've heard of googling the name of the person you're going to meet up with for a date. However, are you just googling his or her name and calling it good? You shouldn't be. Matchmaker Joann Cohen says to Google your date's name, email address and phone number to make sure it matches up to info you've been told. She says to google their online dating screen name as people tend to use the same one across different sites.
Do a Google Image Search of their profile pictures to make sure the person you're talking to hasn't created duplicate accounts with different names and different professions (ie: catfishing).
2) Social Media
Again, this one may seem obvious, but are you searching the right away? Search their name on Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat and LinkedIn. Search them again by their email address. What if they gave you a fake name, but kept the email address the same? If they don't have a Facebook account, check to see if their name has been "tagged" in any photos. Search their profile by their phone number. Does it match?
Joann recommends checking their LinkedIn profile to make sure the positions they've held and industry they've worked in match what you've been told. Police agree.
Also, look at what specifically has been posted to social media. Is the potential date posting pictures of him or her out drunk at the club? Are they posting statuses about how lonely he or she is or sharing explicit content from other pages? Are they bashing their past lovers? These can provide valuable insight into someone's personality.
Court records, unless ordered sealed by a judge, are public record. This includes weddings, divorces, civil lawsuits and criminal cases. Cohen says its OK for a potential date to be divorced (or going through the process), but its worth looking into who filed the divorce record. "If a man tells me he filed, but actually his ex-wife did, I wonder why they lie?" she said in an email.
Searching criminal records online is easy. All you need is the person's name and date of birth, which if you're online dating, you probably have that information already.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but double-check if this website is bookmarked to your browser. If it's not, do it now. Most sex offenders are required to register whenever they move. If they don't, they're considered non-compliant and the state looks to locate where they are. Searching is easy, all you need is a name. Beyond that, you can search for offenders in your area, in a neighborhood or near a school or business. This specific registry is for those in Arizona. You can view the national registry here.
Why this tool? Obviously, if you're planning to meet someone, they're likely not currently incarcerated. But, what about recently? Using the Inmate Datasearch you can potentially find someone's record with his or her name, if they've been let out on supervised released or are considered an absconder, meaning they violated parole, but cannot be located.
6) Police records
Police records are open and available to the public. Scottsdale Sgt. Ben Hoster said anyone can come down to the Scottsdale police records department (or their local police enforcement record's office) and request a record on someone. All you need is a name and date of birth, which is probably located on the person's profile. There is a fee to have it pulled, but it's reasonable.
Special note: This isn't a universal rule. It varies by police agency, whether that be Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe, Surprise, etc. You can contact each agency to learn how their process works.
7) Background checks. Are they worth it?
When companies do background checks before hiring an employee, they pay a lot of money. The basic ones online can range from $10 to $20 a month and Cohen does not recommend them. She says using the resources we've already listed above can provide a lot of free information. WhitePages.com can show you addresses where someone lived. If a relationship becomes serious enough, she said it could be worth it to pay for a quality background check. If anything, it can give you piece of mind.
THE BASICS: This section is for the other safety tips you've heard of, but should always keep in mind.
- Always research the person you're potentially going to meet up with. Cohen says the above steps take her between 15 and 20 minutes to complete.
- If you're going to meet up with someone, always meet in a public place (ie: a restaurant, a coffee shop, a busy park).
- Let a friend or family member know where you're meeting and when you should be home.
- Watch your glass. Do not drink on the first date.
- Trust your instincts. If it seems wrong, get away or call for help.
- Never post personal or financial information online nor post pictures of your family or kids.
Sgt. Hoster said criminals often find "crimes of opportunity." So they're often targeting those individuals who don't appear to be assertive or may not be looking for those red flags. When it comes to online dating, he said the department regularly takes sexual assault reports.
If you've been sexually assaulted or think you have, please contact police right away.
If you're online dating, remember these safety tips and do your homework.