Online Dating Legal Issues

State laws typically center on notices dating services must give consumers, such whether or not they run criminal background checks. Some laws require advising members of general safety practices, such as not revealing info on your full name or complete addresses or phone numbers. Some online services have responded to security concerns with steps such as member screening against the national sex offender registry. One site's policy change followed a lawsuit by a member who was sexually assaulted by her online date.

Use Common Sense and Staying Online Online dating can bring new people, relationships and opportunities into your life. The next wedding you attend, or new face at your family's holiday gathering may be all because of online love. Doing your best to keep yourself safe doesn't have to spoil things. It's up to you, however, to size up your situation and decide whether to go ahead and bring someone new into your life.

Some suggestions as you get to know someone: Don't rush to give out too much personal information Use caution and select a safe public place if you choose to meet someone in person Know it's okay to confirm someone's information , whether it's checking up on addresses, phone numbers and licenses, reviewing state attorney general consumer help sites, or using paid information services or licensed private investigators Use your lawyer's help to complete steps for those major life events , such as buying or selling a home, changing your will or coming up with a premarital agreement if online dating leads to someone who is a keeper Questions for Your Attorney What is the law on investigating someone - how far can I go, and can I keep an investigation private?

I'm worried about my safety due to someone I met online. Can I get a restraining order that covers physical, online and phone contact? What happens if I use an online dating service and the other person turns out to be underage? Have a privacy law question? Lawsuits against Internet dating sites for false statements made by other customers have mostly gone nowhere, in part because Congress more or less immunized such Web sites from suit with the Communications Decency Act of , which says the providers can't be held liable for the lies of third parties.

That makes some sense. Why shoot the messenger? But a new crop of suits are being pressed by disgruntled customers angry not about false claims by third parties, but about false third parties allegedly created by the companies themselves. And Yahoo Personals is defending a class-action suit for allegedly creating phony profiles to "generate interest, public trust and give the site a much more attractive and functional appearance. Advertisement Still, even in the wake of all the alleged fraud and abuse, efforts to regulate Web dating have been limited.

In addition to the CDA, Congress last year enacted the Mail-Order Bride Business Act , which attempted to regulate the plus mail-order bride services operating in this country. The purpose of the act is to protect foreign women from being stalked, abused, or held in the United States against their wishes. The law is already being challenged by angry wife-shoppers who feel that they should not be forced to disclose personal details including past marriages, children, or alcohol-related offenses.

Beyond these federal efforts, a handful of states have also attempted to clamp down on fraud in Internet dating: New York has passed a consumer protection statute to regulate Internet dating sites. Proposals either being weighed or already passed in Texas, Virginia, Michigan, California, and Florida would mostly force online dating sites to tell their clients whether they perform criminal background checks on their members.

These laws wouldn't actually require criminal background checks; they would just shame providers who don't perform them. So, why, in a field so fraught with possibilities for crime and fraud and theft, has the Internet dating industry met with so little regulation? Partly because it works. And 15 percent of American adults now say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship or married someone they met online.

Serious criminal complaints, on the other hand, are fairly rare. Moreover, when it comes to Internet dating, there is a real possibility that the medium is actually by and large safer than singles' bars. Not only are the parties communicating in words, as opposed to pouts and leers, but, as a wonderful divorce attorney I know suggests, dating on the Web has caused the pendulum to swing back toward old-fashioned courting.

According to James Fox Miller: People really like dating in cyberspace in part because they can do it in the privacy of their homes. In return, they will forgo some privacy when they post photos of their lower-back tattoos on MySpace. Most subscribers to online dating services are interested in these companies precisely because they afford tremendous privacy. Heavy regulation would mean that the blurry lines between reality, fantasy, and wishful thinking would be patrolled and enforced by cyberlove cops.

Most online dating services agree that there isn't really a problem anyhow; that most of their consumers are savvy enough to understand the rules, which aren't really all that different from the rules you'd have used at Studio 54 in


The shadowy laws of Internet dating.


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