PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA // With as many as 40 million single Americans using online dating services or web-networking sites such as My Space to look for love, it would seem that there has never been an easier time to find a soulmate online.
In February, My Space was forced to cancel 90,000 accounts on its site that authorities revealed were linked to registered sex offenders.
It was a fraction of the 130 million users of the site, but a significant percentage of the more than one million registered sex offenders in the United States.
In April a Boston medical student, Philip Markoff, dubbed the "Craigslist killer" by the media, was arrested and changed with murdering a masseuse who advertised on the popular website's erotic services section.
Two months later Craigslist was hit with another scandal when it emerged that a North Carolina man used the site to hire a man to rape his wife while the husband watched.
Bill Warner, a Florida private investigator who offers on his website to "sort out the winners from the losers" for a flat fee of US$169 (Dh620), says running background checks on potential internet dates now constitutes more than 50 per cent of his business.
"Usually the problem is that the man is married or he turns out to be one of these crazy stalker people that follows a woman for months," he said in a telephone interview.In many cases, Mr Warner said he would discover that men had joined a site using a false name, a prepaid, throwaway cell phone and a phoney e-mail address from free services such as Yahoo or Hotmail."There are a lot of people out there who get jazzed up by disguising themselves," he said, adding that nearly 100 per cent of his cases involved women being victimised by men.Industry experts say the website is unique in the field for warning on its home page that criminals and married men who come hunting "will be sorry if they do".The site recently sued a convicted sex offender in California who tried to register himself as an eligible bachelor.But is one of the few online dating websites to actually run background checks on its members, even though a recent survey found that a majority of people visiting online dating sites believed that most did.