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Online dating dangers: Sites take steps to safeguard users from danger

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In today's Internet-centric culture, online dating is steadily becoming more mainstream for people hoping to find the love of their lives.

eHarmony is one of many dating sites taking steps to safeguard users. (Photo: eHarmony.com)

However, on many occasions, people are getting more than they bargained for - or less. To combat the growing problem of users of sites like Match.com and eHarmony, they've banded together to strengthen protections against scammers and people who withhold potentially harmful information.

For one woman, who only wants to be identified as Elizabeth, one such potential interest started off just fine. She thought she had finally met the man of her dreams shortly after joining Match.com.

As they exchanged emails and phone calls, the man said he was a fine-dining chef in Florida who had trained at a prestigious culinary institute.

"You're talking to this person every day...wow, this is grand," Elizabeth said.

But then, what he told Elizabeth raised some red flags, including that he was tied up financially while trying to sell his home and when he asked her to pay for him to visit Washington. After hiring a private investigator, she discovered that not only has the man she was talking to never been a chef, he had a history of domestic abuse with three other wives.

"It was extremely scary...this man could have put me in harm's way," she said.

The move by the band of fee-based dating websites is part of a lawsuit settlement stemming from the sexual assault of a California woman by a registered sex offender she met online. A Match.com spokesperson says the site already has a fraud team in place that looks for fake profiles and screens for sex offenders.

But even the most seasons investigators know that that the Internet is a very hard place to police for scammers, especially since people can produce multiple profiles with false information. That's something Kathleen Dailey found out first-hand after joining OKCupid.com, a free dating site.

"I've seen more than one guy I've gone out with under an assumed name," Dailey said. "You just have to trust your intuition, and trust your help to help you evaluate."

Despite their best efforts, most dating sites admit that it's impossible to catch every scammer that wants to join their sites. They all offer disclaimers and safety steps to educate users on how to protect themselves.

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