Tuesday, September 26, 2006

If you want to get the dirt on your date, Web sites aim to help

Sarah Langbein
Sentinel Staff Writer

September 24, 2006

Some call it safety. Others say it's snuffing out the romance. But in an age of online dating and infidelity, many singles are seeking out the skinny on their partners.

Before taking the leap, they are ordering background checks and hiring private investigators to make sure Miss Right isn't Mrs. Right or that the new beau isn't wanted by the feds.

Sometimes things can get nasty. One entrepreneur has called on all womankind to post the names and faces of the men who allegedly wronged them. More than 17,000 scorned women have come on board, making DontDateHimGirl.com an instant hit -- unless you are one of the unlucky men to grace the Web site.

Welcome to the world of weeding out the bad apples, where it has become commonplace to Google everyone -- even your love interest.

Maryssa Montgomery, 27, a laid-back waitress at Orlando's Waitiki Retro Tiki Lounge, hasn't done it. But her dad has. When Montgomery started dating her co-worker, Joseph Webster, six months ago, Dad wanted details.

"He looked him up online," Montgomery says. "He wanted his first and last name. He wanted his address, which I don't think I knew at the time. I told him he wasn't going to find anything."

And he didn't. Montgomery says she typically goes with her gut, but she added: "I just don't think my dad trusts my gut."

In some states, including Florida, you can purchase a criminal-background check online. Fork over $23 and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (www.fdle.state .fl.us/CriminalHistory) will do the statewide search for you. Or, take a peek at the local clerk of court Web sites, which commonly allow users to surf the Web for court cases. For the juicy details, head to the courthouse.

If you don't want to leave the comfort of your computer chair, there are online dating sites that promise users pre-screened candidates. Or "know before you go" -- Matchinform.com allows online lovers to rate their dates.

Cheaters beware

Women seem to be more eager than men to run the checks. In the case of Dont DateHimGirl.com, you do the screening yourself.

"I just thought there should be a way for women to get together and warn each other about their bad dating experiences," said creator Tasha Joseph, 33.

More than 100 posters to the South Florida-based Web site have singled out men in Orlando as creeps, liars, players, abusers and every other ugly term you can think of. Their sometimes profanity-laced tirades get personal and to the point, followed by the usual warning: Don't date him, girl.

Take, for instance, Daniel from Orlando.

"CHEATER!! CHEATER!!" a fuming female typed on the site. "This is just a warning girls, I definitely don't want him for myself, and I certainly don't wish him on anyone else, even my worst enemy. Oh, and when he pulls the line that you are the only girl he's ever fallen in love with, laugh in his face!"

More than 600 people have viewed Daniel's profile.

Other allegations span from women alleging they acquired a sexually transmitted disease to ex-wives saying their husbands used them for money and green cards. The latter got this response -- in all capital letters -- from one reader: "Girls -- we should help this woman and send her a donation of a dollar each for her defense against this pig!!"

Some of the so-called "pigs" on those pages have banded together to fight Joseph and her site. In return, they've launched www.classaction -dontdatehimgirl.com. Others have posted their own responses on DontDateHimGirl .com, right alongside their nasty profiles. Todd Hollis, a lawyer from Pittsburgh, is suing Joseph for defamation. The two duked it out Wednesday on Dr. Phil.

"Mr. Hollis is trying to hold me responsible for comments made about him on the site by other women," Joseph said on the TV talk show. "I did not write those comments, and furthermore, the law states that I am not liable."

Hollis disagreed, saying the Web site creates an unequal playing field. "Men shouldn't be identified by their picture, while women remain anonymous."

One woman, Diana from West Palm Beach, said her post was a way to release negative energy about a man to whom she was engaged. Turns out, he already had a wife. She didn't want any other woman to fall for his same trick.

"It's taken me a long time to get through this," says Diana, who spoke on the condition that her last name not be used because she just wants to "move on."

The investigator

On the flip side, next month Joseph is introducing her latest endeavor, GreatGuysTo Date.com.

"Essentially, it's a place on the Internet where women can post about the great guys in their lives -- guys who should be swimming in the global dating pool," Joseph says. "I created the site because I felt that if women had a place on the Internet where they can share their bad dating experiences, there should be a place where they could share their good dating experiences, too, and talk about the men who they think are great."

Not satisfied yet? You could enlist the expertise of Carmen Naimish, a California private investigator and founder of DateSmart.com

"If you date . . . investigate," is Naimish's slogan. For a starting price of $500, she'll dig deep to find the goods on your honey. "If you feel something is wrong, you're probably right," Naimish says of her clients' hunches. Most of her clients are successful professionals and about 60 percent are women.

Most of the female clients want to know, "Is he really divorced?" Most of the men want to know how many times the woman has been married.

In one case, Naimish says, she broke up the wedding of a 69-year-old woman whose daughter called her for help. It turned out that the mother's Mr. Right was Mr. Wrong.

"I'm like a friend tapping you on the shoulder," Naimish says. "I want to save people from heartache, disasters and financial ruin."

Just ask him, girl

Local dating guru Michelle Valentine scoffs at the mention of background checks and private investigators.

"People are living a false sense of security," Valentine says. Sometimes the red flags don't show up on paper, she adds.

Plus, it kills the romance.

Do your own investigative work, Valentine urges. Look for "background information" instead of background checks, she says. Ask simple questions of suitors, in which their answers will reveal their character. For instance, ask the person to tell you about their past relationships. The goal is to find out through the response, tone and body language how the exes were treated. Do you sense a temper? Does the person use demeaning language to refer to a past love?

The Winter Park dating expert and coach, who dresses stylishly in red and wears all heart-shaped jewelry, says singles need to slow down and revert to "old-fashioned courting practices." She believes in dating numerous people at once -- no sex, she says -- and narrowing the pool that way. To help out, Valentine enjoys playing Cupid, whether it's on her online dating site or out in the community. Saturday night, she hosted a soiree in honor of National Singles Week.

"The problem with singles nowadays is they're in a rush," Valentine says.

Not Amy Zaccaria, 25, of Tampa, who sipped wine Thursday at Eola Wine Co. in Winter Park with her mother, soon-to-be mother-in-law and friends after a long day of wedding-dress shopping.

She met the love of her life through a medical-school friend, who gave his stamp of approval -- the best background check you can get, her girlfriends say. Still, she Googled her new honey a couple of weeks later, looking for news of his younger years, not a potential criminal past, she says.

"If you're Googling him for that reason, you shouldn't be dating him in the first place," Zaccaria says.

How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships