Mary Kay Beckman, a 46-year-old mother of two from Las Vegas, met 50-year-old Wade Mitchell Ridley through Match.com in September 2010. After several dates, Ms. Beckman told Ridley that she was ending the relationship. Four months later, according to Courthouse News Service, on a night in January 2011, Ridley hid in Ms. Beckman’s garage and attacked her, stabbing her ten times and leaving her for dead.
At some point after a divorce, you’ll probably decide to begin dating again. Online dating is a great way to ease back into the dating scene after a divorce. Online dating is nothing new, and it’s one of the easiest ways for busy adults to meet new people. According to Consumer Rankings.com, the top five dating sites attracting divorced people in 2016 are Zoosk.com, Match.com, OurTime.com (primarily for adults over age fifty), eHarmony.com, and EliteSingles.com.
Ads for online dating services always show happy, attractive couples who marry after meeting each other online, but when you go online yourself, be extraordinarily careful and cautious. Times have probably changed since the last time you dated, and there are new “rules” that must be followed. If you’re too trusting and a little too anxious to find happiness, you may be targeted by scam artists – or worse.
WHAT ARE MOST SCAM ARTISTS LOOKING FOR AT DATING SITES?
Of course, that’s a rare, worst-case scenario. Far more frequently, what scam artists are looking for is money. The person that you think is “adorable” could be a convicted criminal targeting you from the Philippines or from across the street. After a con artist gains your confidence, the scam begins. You might be asked to help a sick relative, to pay a pressing debt, or to pay air fare for a ticket to meet you in the United States. If you comply and send money, the con artist might get out while ahead of the game – and disappear – but he or she might also decide that you’re “a live one” and ask for even more.
Never send money to anyone that you have not met personally. If you think that the person you are talking with is not the person in the profile picture, upload the profile pic to Google Images (images.google.com) to find out if anyone else is using the same photo online. (To access the upload function, click on the camera icon on the Google Images home page.) Even if you’re not being asked for money, a fake picture means the person you are talking to is hiding something.
WHAT ARE SOME TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE DURING ONLINE DATING?
The internet – especially the dating sites – are packed with scammers, cons, and criminals seeking victims. It cannot be said loudly or frequently enough: Be abundantly cautious about online dating. If you meet someone who impresses you, someone who seems honest and worth your time, go ahead and meet the person, but adhere to these commonsense safety suggestions.
- Meet in a public place: There’s safety in numbers. A restaurant or coffee shop provides enough security and witnesses to protect you in case the encounter goes south quickly. Never, ever, ever, meet someone at that person’s home or invite that person to your own home until you really, genuinely know and trust the person
- Secondly, tell a friend. Make certain that someone knows where you are, and give your friend all of the contact information you have about the person you are meeting: the name, photo, address, and anything else you have. In the worst scenario – if you disappear – the police will know who to look for. Check in with your friend during the date or ask your friend to call you. That also gives you a reason to end the date diplomatically if you need to by saying something like. “My friend is having an emergency and needs my help, so I’m sorry this has to end early.”
- Drive yourself to the date and drive yourself home from the date. Being in your own vehicle gives you control. If you take a taxi or a bus, the person you are meeting will probably insist on driving you after the date, and you do not want that on a first date. Whenever you date someone you’ve met online, it’s always better to have your own wheels, so there’s no reliance on anyone but yourself.
- Stay sober. Alcohol has been a part of too many robberies, rapes, and assaults. On a first date, you don’t want anything that makes you vulnerable or that causes you to lose your focus. Even if you are not directly victimized, you do not want to wake up from a first date with a hangover and the feeling that you acted inappropriately.
Most importantly, don’t be in a hurry to hook up with someone right after a divorce. Never assume that you are being told the truth in an online dating situation. Some people exaggerate who they are to impress you, but others do it to victimize you. If you are newly divorced, you must understand that you are alone, and being alone makes anyone a more vulnerable target. None of this is meant to be discouraging. In fact, if you’ll adhere to the suggestions offered here, you’ll very likely go on some great dates and meet some great people through online dating. Who knows where it could lead?
Divorce and family law attorney Gerald Tomassian is a Partner at Tomassian, Pimentel & Shapazian in Fresno, California.