Millions of Americans are finding love – or just hooking up – with people they meet on such online dating sites as Match.com, Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Grindr and eHarmony.
In fact, 27 percent of young Millennials ages 18 to 24 use online dating compared to just 10 percent in 2013, says the Pew Research Center. Even older singles are getting in on the action; 12 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds have used an online dating site.
The results can be heart-warming; one researcher found that about a third of couples who married between 2005 and 2012 met online, and most of us know at least one couple who met that way. It’s become an acceptable way to find a mate, or even just a date.
But there is a dark side to this 21st-century version of the near-anonymous bar pickup.
What happened last week to Ingrid Lyne, a Renton nurse and mother of three, surely sent shivers up the spines of many online daters, especially women. Her death, with its grisly aftermath, is the worst-case scenario for any woman hoping to meet a nice man, only to find that he’s a monster.
A man Lyne met online and reportedly had been dating a short time has been charged with first-degree murder for killing and dismembering her, then leaving body parts in a recycling bin. It turns out the man was homeless and has a criminal record as well as a reputation for being, as an ex-girlfriend put it, “a mean drunk.”
In Pierce County, there is the cautionary story of Nicole White. The Orting mother of two was beaten to death in June 2015 on a first date with someone she met online. The Graham man charged with killing her had been convicted in 2009 of second-degree assault for firing a loaded shotgun at a group of people in Sumner.
Authorities are advising people to use readily available public records checks to look into the backgrounds of those they would date. That’s a good idea but no guarantee that it will turn up enough information to stay safe.
The suspect in the latest case, John Robert Charlton, has a Facebook page that shows plenty of “friends” and no hint that a Mr. Hyde is lurking behind the smiling photos. He might have been able to conceal his homelessness and even his propensity for drunken violence from a prospective date. And an in-state public records check would only have revealed a 1998 negligent driving conviction – hardly a major red flag.
It would have taken a fairly extensive – and more expensive – background check to have revealed Charlton’s convictions in Montana for felony theft and in Utah for aggravated robbery.
For those who go out with a lot of people they meet on dating sites, it’s probably not feasible to do deep background checks on everyone. The best advice is to meet in public places early on, then do a background check if it looks like the relationship could get more serious. And always let someone know the person’s name and where you’ll be.
Online connections don’t have to be about romance to be potentially dangerous. Many people who have placed or answered online ads, for instance, have been robbed by the other party.
An unforgettable tragedy was the so-called “Craigslist murder” of an Edgewood man gunned down in his own home in front of his family. Four people, who had responded to his online ad selling a piece of jewelry, were convicted of numerous charges and are serving long prison sentences.
Americans have become so accustomed to online transactions that it’s all too easy to let one’s guard down. While most such interactions will be safe, there’s always a slight risk when meeting up with another person who enjoys Internet anonymity. The Lyne tragedy is just the most recent reminder to be wary.