How Safe Are Online Dating Services?

A major online dating service is being sued by a woman who was nearly killed by a man she met through the site, raising questions about just how safe this industry is.

Fox5Vegas.com is reporting that Mary Kay Beckman, 50, a real estate agent and mother of two from Las Vegas, Nevada is suing Match.com for $10 million after a man she met on the service tried to kill her. She claims the site doesn’t do enough to keep violent offenders off their service.

Her problem began in September 2010 when she met Wade Ridley after being on Match.com for just two months. She dated him for less than two weeks before she broke it off, which caused him to turn violent.

He eventually caught up with her and in 2011, stabbed her 10 times with a butcher knife. When the knife broke, he stomped on her head.

The attack left her hospitalized for months during which time she endured three surgeries and a seizure. Even worse, while in the hospital, she learned that Ridley had murdered another Arizona woman he met on Match.com.

He was eventually arrested and later committed suicide in jail.

Beckman is now suing Match.com for its failure to properly screen applicants.

“They don’t say one in five are part of an attempted murder or one in five are killed,” said Beckman. “They don’t tell you people are missing.”

She wants Match.com to post a warning on its site similar to what is found on cigarettes, informing people that dating sites can be harmful.

Match.com is calling her suit “absurd.”

“What happened to Mary Kay Beckman is horrible but this lawsuit is absurd,” the company said in a statement. “The many millions of people who have found love on Match.com and other online dating sites know how fulfilling it is. And while that doesn’t make what happened in this case any less awful, this is about a sick, twisted individual with no prior criminal record, not an entire community of men and women looking to meet each other.”

Unfortunately, Beckman isn’t the only woman to come forward in recent years to complain about the site’s applicant screening practices.

In 2011, Carole Markin, a TV producer in Hollywood sued Match.com after being sexually assaulted in her home by a man who turned out to be a convicted sex offender. The only good news in her story is that the lawsuit asked for a temporary restraining order that would prevent new members from signing up for Match.com until such a sex offender screening program is instituted. Match.com did agree to begin cross-referencing members against the National Sex Offender Registry.

According to the Safer Online Dating Alliance, two men were taken into custody by New Hampshire police in 2008 on charges of drugging and raping women they met on Internet dating sites like Match.com and Plentyoffish.com.

In 2009, Jeffrey Marsalis, a man who pretended to be an astronaut, doctor and CIA agent, was finally put behind bars for drugging and raping a woman he met on Match.com. Marsalis had been tried on similar charges in 2006 and 2007, but was ultimately set free. Now serving a life sentence in Blaine County, Idaho, he is suspected of having drugged and raped 10 women he met online.

Violent assault isn’t the only problem with online dating. These sites are also popular with scam artists who meet up with people and scam them out of money. As this FBI report outlines, online dating scams are also prevalent.  Divorced, widowed or disabled women over 40 are the usual targets of these predators who use fake profiles which are carefully crafted to win their interest. They feign romantic interest, sending gifts and flowers, just long enough to win trust. Ultimately, the scammer will begin to ask for money. Because these scammers are usually from overseas, they may also send checks to the woman asking her to cash them because they are unable to do so, or ask her to forward packages.

“In addition to losing your money to someone who had no intention of ever visiting you, you may also have unknowingly taken part in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks and sending the money overseas and by shipping stolen merchandise (the forwarded package),” the FBI recounts.

Even though thousands of people use dating sites without incident every year, this is no reason to let down your guard, experts say, and recommend many practical safety tips for those who choose to use online dating services.

In the meantime, women like Mary Kay Beckman will continue to remind women of the dangers they face online.

“God saved me that night for a reason,” said Beckman. “I shouldn’t be here today. It’s my mission and goal to save someone from being hurt or help someone make a different decision with their online dating choices.”

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