Love's Tangled Web

Checking Up On Online Partners

In a small town in northern Arizona a thrice-married 47-year-old accountant named Catherine is looking for love - online.

Correspondent Bill Lagattuta reports on how she tried to ensure that her prospect was on the level.
Why was she looking for romance on the Web?

The Internet allows you to meet people that you might never run into, she explains.

Finally after two years of searching the Web, she was thinking she had finally met her match: Mike Young of Denver, Colo. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, he appeared to be everything she seeks.

"I have a big issue around height," she says with a laugh. "I've got to have somebody that's taller than me."

She liked Young because they communicated well and both wanted a long-term relationship. After six weeks of emails and phone calls, they decided to meet for a weekend in Los Angeles.

In cyberspace, deception can be as easy as a keystroke. So before she went anywhere, she had Young checked out.

"I've had men tell me they're not married. And I do a background search prior to meeting them, and lo and behold they've got a wife," she says.

For help, Catherine turned to attorney Linda Alexander, who runs a record-searching site, whoishe.com. For a fee of up to $75, Alexander searches public records for anyone seeking the truth about an online companion. She does criminal background checks and civil record searches.

"Sixty percent of the time people will have found that somebody has lied about something when they've used my services," she says. Both men and women lie, she says. "They're both lying. Men lie about their marital status; women tend to lie about their age."

What is it about Internet relationships that fools people? "You don't have the same opportunity to see the person or talk to the person directly," Alexander says. "If you're an honest person, you think other people are equally honest."

Beth Wadsworth of Vista, Calif., knows firsthand the risks of Internet dating, she says. Wadsworth met Thomas Abney of Newburg, Ore. He seemed like a nice guy, she says.

After two months of emails and phone calls, he came to visit. After several days of what seemed like a pleasant visit, she asked him to leave a few days earlier than planned; she needed to get some work done.

Then Abney attacked Wadsworth and beat her unconscious. When she awoke, he attacked her again. Abney finally left her alone, enabling her to call 911, Wadsworth says. Abney was was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison. After nearly two years of physical therapy, Wadsworth is now feeling much better.

Who is this Mike Young, the person whom Catherine wanted to have checked? Young, who designs Web sites and likes to race sidecar motorcycles, says that he is a risk taker. He has met about six women through cyberspace, he says.

Young can't magine checking up on someone before meeting them, he says, considering it an invasion of privacy.

To a certain extent, Catherine agrees. "If you're going to have a relationship with somebody, your privacy's going to get invaded anyway," she says.

There weren't any glaring red flags in Young's background check. So Catherine headed to Los Angeles. The weekend began well. She says that Young resembled his picture. Young notes that Catherine made a good first impression.

But by Sunday morning, Catherine was heading home - early. Both she and Young gave the date low ratings.

What sent the relationship into a tailspin? It started with an argument over the background check. Catherine says that she had told Young about the background check beforehand. Young says he had asked her to not do a check and that she had agreed.

When Catherine told him that she had indeed done the check, he was disappointed. The relationship has no future, he said. Catherine, though, still plans to use background checks.

What about Wadsworth's case? Would a background check have prevented the alleged beating?

When Alexander ran a background check on Abney, it didn't reveal much. His record showed no criminal convictions.

"There is definitely nothing in this report that would have suggested to her or anybody else that this man would have come in and violently attacked her," says Alexander, who still considers her service extremely useful.

"There's risks," says Catherine. "There's dangers. You do the best you can to protect yourself. That's one of the things I like about the background search. At least I'm trying to protect myself and trying to do something to be informed."

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