The day after Valentine’s Day of 2013, national news reports indicated a spike in new online dating memberships. Once somewhat frowned upon, looking for love online has become more socially acceptable within the last ten years.
Ann Friedman, a politics columnist for New York’s website, reported in her article Cupid’s Cursor, that one-third of America’s 90 million singles have used online dating services. While some find love, get married, living happily ever after, some have met with tragedy.
Robyn Gardner, who I wrote about August 25, 2011 in an article Missing Persons Advocacy Network, remains missing after meeting Gary V. Giordano online. They met each other on an online dating site, and saw each other a couple times a month. Robyn considered Giordano a friend and agreed to take a vacation to Aruba where she vanished. Her family is still desperately searching for answers. After her disappearance, Giordano attempted to sue American Express for a $3.5 million insurance policy he took our on Robyn prior to their trip to Aruba.
Robyn Gardner is just one of many people who have fell victim to an online predator. November 30, 2012, Michigan law enforcement announced the body of Leigh Swanson had been found in the woods, approximately 10 miles northwest of Midland. Her cause of death was a fatal gunshot.
Swanson, 45 years old, had met a man on an online dating site according to her mother, Beverly Kane. Kane said her daughter had expressed that she had a bad feeling prior to going on the date but made a call to her mother on November 18, 2012 from the man’s home indicating everything was fine and she would be home soon. She never arrived and no one knew whom she had gone on the date with.
After Swanson was reported missing, authorities traced the call to a house in Edenville Township, and dispatched deputies to the location. When the deputies approached the front door, they heard a gunshot from inside and ordered anyone inside to come out with their hands over their heads. A man exited the home holding a cell phone in his hand. The man had been on the phone with 911 reporting his son had just shot himself. A search ensued, and police found Swanson’s body in a wooded area on a neighboring property.
While the positive stories about online dating far outnumber the bad, the harsh reality is that online dating can also put people at risk. Following are some tips that can help keep you safe. Remember you can never take too much precaution when it comes to your personal safety.
1. Always meet in a public place. Never invite the individual to pick you up from your home or accept an invitation to theirs.
2. Use the online dating site email system to communicate. Remember, the more information you give out the easier you are to find. Even providing a private email address gives someone enough information to find out who you are and where you live.
3. If you decide to meet personally, attempt to obtain as much verifiable information about the person prior to the meeting, such as name and phone number.
4. Make sure you let someone close to you know who you are meeting, where you are meeting, and as much information about the person as possible. You can even have your friend call you during the date. This gives your friends and family peace of mind but also sends a clear message to the individual you are with that others know where you are.
5. Do your homework. It is not unreasonable to conduct a background investigation on a potential mate and could lessen the danger to yourself and those you love.
6. No matter how comfortable you feel with the person, never leave your food or drink unattended.
While I am not discouraging anyone from online dating, I do encourage you to take every precaution necessary to protect yourself. We must not permit tragedies or the lives of victims to be in vain.
About the Author: Kym L. Pasqualini is founder of the Nation’s missing Children Organization in 1994 and the National Center for Missing Adults in 2000. She served as CEO until January 2010. Kym is recognized as an expert in the field of missing persons, and has spent 20 years working with families of missing persons and homicide victims, government officials, advocates, and national media. She is also a contributor to Lauth Investigations International and the Missing Persons Advocacy Network.