Several months ago, I wrote a piece on why people shouldn’t Google someone before a date — it prohibits natural conversation and discourse, I thought. However, lately, friends have revealed red flags they’ve found when Googling someone before a date, like finding out the person is married or has a criminal record and a new last name.
In this dating app world we live in, where we can swipe on someone one minute and agree to meet them for a drink a few minutes later, it’s easy to get caught up in meeting them and not in pre-screening them. But the latter seems essential these days, since people can easily form fake online personas and lure us in, having us fall for an illusion instead of the real them.
Once my mom started online dating and asking me for help (she’s not too computer-savvy), I became overprotective and started doing my own background checks on the guys who were trying to woo her with emoji roses — one of whom wrote and asked her to wire him $1,000. (Of course, he ended up being a scam artist, but she was about to meet him until that point! She had never Googled someone!)
On top of which, there are services, like BeenVerified, that do the work for you. It digs deeper than Google, discovering things like if someone is married or has committed a crime. “By giving users affordable and easy access to public records, individuals can make more informed decisions about those they choose to meet, so they don't get taken advantage of or lied to,” the BeenVerified site states. And it’s popular, with over 109,000 subscribers in the U.S. and an average of 10 million visits (!) to their site per month. That’s a lot of people digging deeper for answers.
There’s also an app called The Know, which is an anonymous social network that connects people (on the DL, of course) who are romantically involved with or interested in the same person — to uncover cheaters, serial players, etc. “Our mission is to create a safe community for the exchange of important information that will help people date smarter and avoid the wrong relationships, wasted time and emotional thrashing,” The Know's site says.
Man, it’s a scary world out there! I decided to ask Bustle readers what they’ve uncovered when pre-screening dates. If the below doesn’t motivate you to start Googling and researching dates before meeting them IRL, I don’t know what will.
1. Roslyn, 49
The worst thing that can happen is not to Google a date! I went out on a date with a man I’d known through business for eight years. I’ve known him for a bit, so why Google? My bad. Several of my friends Googled him and informed me that he was indeed a crook. He had been disbarred for embezzlement and was continuing to practice law illegally. Lose my number.
2. Elise, 29
I once met a cute guy at a bar in Brooklyn and, after many drinks, we made out and exchanged numbers. The next day, I decided to Google his phone number (as I only had his first name) and was directed toward a Brooklyn firearms company that consisted of the guy from the bar and his mom illegally selling firearms and gun parts from their apartment! His full name was listed there and, after Googling that, I saw a press release on the New York Attorney General's website about how he was facing weapons possession charges after unregistered shotguns and assault rifles were discovered in his house, and faces up to seven years in prison. We have mutual Facebook friends, too!
3. Abigail, Then-34
I found out he was a registered sex offender. I was all set to meet up with him on a trip to Vegas — not for a hookup (at least, that wasn't my intention), but to have someone local I could explore with off the Strip with [sic]. He was forthcoming with a lot of information — the name of his company, where he'd lived in the past, interests, and his full name. Tick-tack-tock into Google, clicked on images, and ‘hello, mugshot!’ Read the charges and they were in Florida… for traveling to meet a minor. I was like, ‘I wonder if this dude ever met Chris Hansen. I confronted him about it and he explained he gave someone a ride not knowing what/why the friend needed the ride. He did his time (I don't remember if it was nine months or three years) and had to agree to go on Florida's sex offender registry. He said he'd never hurt a child and didn't know what To Catch a Predator was.
4. Dan, Then-Early 20s
Years ago, when I was living in Chicago, I Googled a girl I was going to go on a date with… and she came up on Crime Stoppers in California! For grand larceny and a bunch of petty crimes. I actually turned her in! But California said, because she was all the way in Chicago, she was out of their jurisdiction! Needless to say, I didn’t go on the date!
5. Courtney, 39
I went out with a guy I saw on all the sites: OkC, Tinder, Bumble… he was everywhere. We had a fun first date and I looked forward to the second one. I only knew his first name and randomly asked his last name before our second date. I Googled him — and all these headlines came up about him, including a link to DatingPsychos.com, where people log info on ‘psychos’ — criminal history or what have you. Sure enough, the picture was the same as his online dating one and all the stories said he’s molested teenagers 20 years ago! It also warned that he used all these different last names, one of which was the one he gave me! CRAZY! I never deleted someone so fast! (And I also cancelled my next date with him, of course!)
6. Christine, Then-35
We met in the TSA screening line at Dallas Love Field airport after he insisted I go first. I thanked him with, ‘Chivalry is not dead,’ then noticed his religious-themed shirt (sponsored by a church I am well familiar with) that he said was from one of his patients who shared his faith. So we struck up a conversation about how I, too, am a person of faith and am also a doctor (I am a Ph.D. and he said just ‘sports medicine,’ so I assumed he was an M.D. or D.O.). He said he had moved from Washington State a year earlier to Dallas and was headed to Panama City Beach for vacation. He seemed like decent guy (a polite, church-going doctor, right?) — which is why I gave him my phone number. All was fine for the week.
He texted me photos from the beach and I texted him photos from the U.N. I didn't get suspicious enough to Google him until after his texts became sexually explicit — and continued even after I asked him to stop. It was then that I Googled him and found out he was a chiropractor, not a physician, and he lost his license in Washington state for pleading no contest to sexual contact with an underage female patient in her teens. He had no license in Texas either. I texted him a screenshot of the court order — where he admitted to molesting a patient and he finally stop texting, but not before saying to me, ‘I didn't want to touch that anyway!’ I think pre-date Googling should be a good best practice before even giving out a phone number.
7. Carmel, TheBigFling.com, Then-27
In 2010, I was active on online dating sites. I began exchanging flirty, private messages with a guy named Simon. By the fourth message, he asked for my phone number. He called and we had a lovely conversation. Funny, witty, caring. He checked off all the boxes. We set up a date for that Saturday. But then I turned to the Big G. I searched his name and found a couple disturbing things. Not only did he lie about his age by 10 years, but he was allegedly part of an identity theft ring! Though he never seemed to be convicted, it was plenty for me to call off the date. Some people get turned off by the all-seeing eye of Google, but sometimes it comes up huge!
8. Catherine, 39
I found out a guy I’d been talking to (from Tinder) had a felony drug charge (with intent to deliver)! I assumed this was the “business deal gone bad” he had referred to in a previous conversation. LOL! Needless to say, we never went out.
9. Michelle, 28
I was on vacation and met a guy who I was so into, my vacation boyfriend, if you will. We spent about six days together and promised to keep in touch when I left. He gave me his business card, and when I got home I googled him with my friends. It was about 10 years ago, so I wasn't expecting much — maybe his Facebook page — but thousands of results came up. Mug shots, videos, articles — he had been arrested in major, major disappearance case. He wasn't charged with anything, or even a witness at that point, but it was still incredibly frightening to see the videos of his arrest.
10. Dennis, Then-40ish
I Googled someone and still went on the date. Her father and uncle were Mafia and, due to her uncle testifying against Mafia, her family changed their name and relocated. When I arrived for our first date, I was made to wait 90 minutes while she got ready. At one point, she made the threat to me, ‘If you screw me over, I know people.’
11. Catherine, 33
I found out a guy was involved with insider trading… for millions of dollars (!). I read a bunch on it and, in my not-so-expert-opinion, he was guilty but must have given them a bigger fish to fry. We went on one date. My boss set me up and knew about it (they had worked together) and told me to give him a chance and not to be picky. ;) He was a nice guy, but...
12. Vivi, StyleCite.com, 28
Worst Google Revelation EVER. My worst experience was when I found out that my first-ever boyfriend, who was also my first kiss, was at the time married and expecting his first child. How did I find out? Facebook. I actually found out some time after we went out, when he added me on FB, and it turned out he had a wife and daughter. It was an easy calculation, knowing the child's age. I was shocked! He was cheating on his pregnant wife with me, and also turned out he lied about his age, too (over four years older).
13. Tom La Vecchia, Founder of X Factor Media, Age Range of Clients: 23-35
I own a digital marketing firm and have been approached by individuals who were concerned about what they found when they Googled their names. Some of their issues were: One person was caught on YouTube eschewing a racist rant; getting arrested for public urination; and sexual misconduct. These are just a few. I am all for Googling, as you can find out a lot and possibly not waste your time.
Should What We Find Be Dealbreakers?
However, even research isn’t always foolproof. Art Keller used to work for the CIA, then as a licensed private investigator. “One of the things I did when I had an active license was background screenings for a high-end dating introduction service (it cost $3,000 for a man to join and several hundred dollars for women),” he tells Bustle. “[There were] limitations of what one can find online because even with access to proprietary databases that the general public can't access, it was sometimes difficult for me to get a decent picture of whether the person I was researching was OK to date.” So, what’s a guy or girl to do?
“People need to keep in mind that background research is tricky and will invariably be incomplete. The main value is for obvious red flags. Name confusion is huge; lots of people have the same name, even with names that, at first glance, would seem to be uncommon. Also, Aziz Ansari says in his book, Modern Romance , if you start digging into somebody's background, you run the risk of rejecting someone for innocuous factoids you find, i.e., because they enjoy a radio show you happen to find dumb. I think this is a point well taken. It is hard enough to find decent romance without rejecting people based on arbitrary criteria, i.e., height, eye color, favorite movie, that actually say nothing about the person's real qualities.”
I agree. Keller also warns that people should not make decisions based only on online information. “Sometimes what you are looking for is not there, so you do have to pay attention to your instincts,” he says. “Online research helps, but it can only be a supplement to, not a substitute for, informed judgement.”
I couldn’t have said that better myself.
Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.
Images: Pexels; Giphy (2-20)