Three Leading Online Dating Websites Agree to Use Background Checks to Protect Members from Sex Offenders

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and three of the nation’s leading online dating websites – eHarmony, Match.com, and Spark Networks – have issued a ‘JOINT STATEMENT OF KEY PRINCIPLES OF ONLINE DATING SITE SAFETY’ that online dating providers should follow to help protect members from sexual predators through background checks, the California Office of the Attorney General (OAG) announced in a press release on the OAG website. A copy of the joint agreement, which also aims to protect online dating website members from identity theft and financial scams, is available online at: http://ag.ca.gov/cms_attachments/press/pdfs/n2647_agreement.pdf?.

The agreement states that online dating companies will protect their members through the use of online safety tools that include checking members against national sex offender registries to prevent registered sex offenders from using their services. Any member who is identified as a registered sex offender will not be allowed to use these services. The joint statement also ensures that the online dating service providers have rapid abuse reporting systems, which give members access to a website, email address and/or phone number to report any suspected criminal activity, including physical safety concerns. Attorney General Harris encourages all online dating sites to adopt the same principles.

However, the agreement also warns online dating website providers and members that screening sex offender registries for sexual predators is not a foolproof solution:

  • While sex offender screening can be a useful safety tool, such screening tools have many limitations which impact their efficacy. However, the providers will use tools and technologies to identify sexual predators, including checking sex offender registries when the providers possess the requisite information to conduct such checks, and, when identified, remove registered sexual predators from participating in fee-based services on their websites.
  • The providers will remind members that the members are responsible for their own safety and offline activities. As noted, because there are limitations to the effectiveness of sex offender screening tools and use of such tools does not guarantee member safety, providers will not promote or publicize sex offender screening tools in a manner intended to lead members to assume that due to the providers’ use of sex offender screening tools, meeting people online is any safer than meeting people any other way. The providers will disclose in the Terms of Use or User Agreements for their websites that members should not rely on sex offender screenings or other protective tools as a guarantee for safety or a replacement for following Safety Tips.

Background screening expert Attorney Lester Rosen, CEO of San Francisco-area based background check provider Employment Screening Resources (ESR), echoes the warning contained in the agreement and says “the devil is in the details” with database searches.

“Databases can be notoriously inaccurate, so people still need to understand that they are responsible for their personal safety,” says Rosen, the author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual,’ a comprehensive guide for background checks. “Database searches are subject to both false negatives and false positives and have issues in terms of timeliness, completeness, and accuracy. They can also cause harm by creating a false sense of security.”

The joint statement follows the 2010 sexual assault of a Los Angeles-area woman by a man she met through Match.com. As reported earlier on the ESR News blog, Match.com settled a lawsuit with a woman who sued the popular online dating website after she was sexually assaulted following a date with a fellow member. The woman sought a court order requiring Match.com to background check applicants for convicted sex offenders and dropped the suit after the website began background screening. The woman’s assailant – who had several previous sexual assault convictions prior to the attack – pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a year in jail. He also had to register as a sex offender.

California is not the only state concerned with the safety of online daters. Legislation under consideration in Illinois – House Bill 4083 (HB 4083) ‘INTERNET DATING SAFETY ACT’ – would require online dating sites to clearly and conspicuously disclose to all Illinois members if they conduct criminal background checks. Introduced by State Representative Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg), HB 4083 would also require Internet dating services to provide a safety awareness notification to all Illinois members of safer dating practices. The full text of HB 4083 is available at

According to statistics cited in the OAG press release, 40 million Americans used an online dating service and spent more than $1 billion on online dating website memberships in 2011.

For more information about background checks including screening for sex offenders, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check Authority’ and nationwide screening firm accredited by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) – at http://www.esrcheck.com/ or call 415.898.0044.

Related ESR News Blogs:

Sources:
http://oag.ca.gov/news/press_release?id=2647
http://ag.ca.gov/cms_attachments/press/pdfs/n2647_agreement.pdf?

About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):
Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check AuthoritySM – provides accurate and actionable information, empowering employers to make informed safe hiring decisions for the benefit for our clients, their employees, and the public. ESR literally wrote the book on background screening with “The Safe Hiring Manual” by Founder and CEO Lester Rosen. ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), a distinction held by less than two percent of all screening firms. By choosing an accredited screening firm like ESR, employers know they have selected an agency that meets the highest industry standards. For more information about Employment Screening Resources (ESR), visit http://www.esrcheck.com/ or call 415.898.0044 or 888.999.4474.

About ESR News:
The Employment Screening Resources (ESR) News blog – ESR News – provides employment screening information for employers, recruiters, and jobseekers on a variety of topics including credit reports, criminal records, data privacy, discrimination, E-Verify, jobs reports, legal updates, negligent hiring, workplace violence, and use of search engines and social network sites for background checks. For more information about ESR News or to send comments or questions, please email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at tahearn@esrcheck.com.

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