It could happen to you….so watch out

You often hear horror stories of people using fake identities online, and one such tall tale actually became reality for a woman in La Mesa, Calif.  Beware!

Believe it or not, predators aren’t just scouting out the big general sites like Match.com or PlentyofFish. Nope, one man decided to go scouting for his prey on ChristianMingle.com.

Former Navy sailor Sean Patrick Banks, 37, used a fake name to contact a woman who he allegedly raped last November, according to California police officers. Banks, who resides in the tony seaside town of Del Mar,  is a currently unemployed deadbeat who “traveled frequently around various spots in the U.S.” He has allegedly been using the names “Rylan Butterwood” and “Rylan Harbough.”

Even more frightening, his victims may not have just been solely in Southern California — and he’s free to do wreak havoc once again:  after pleading not guilty, he posted bond of $500,000 and was released.

Don’t let this happen to you! Check out some tips from my book, Internet Dating 101: It’s Complicated But It Doesn’t Have to Be on how to avoid an online predator. Be safe!

HOW TO SPOT A CRIMINAL

As I’m sure you’re all aware of by now, there are definitely downsides to online dating, just as there are to meeting a partner offline. In addition to worrying about cheaters, liars and players, you also have to also protect yourself against the men that are really dangerous: online predators.

There really is a big cause for concern here. One out of every ten sex offenders use online dat- ing sites to prey on women.19 But don’t let that scare you off. You’ll just have to be extra smart about your dating choices from now on.

One way to completely avoid this issue is to join a site that does background checks, like True.com.True’s President Ruben Buell, has promised that the site has investigated every single one of its subscribing members since its 2003 launch.

“We wanted to change the way dating sites were perceived and the way people used them so that when someone came online, they had a much better understanding that the person they were talking to was not a convicted felon,” he ex- plained. 20

Hallelujah!

Seriously, you need to watch out. If you’re dismissing this section already and saying to yourself, “Well, duh. I think I would know if I was talking to a felon” sorry, but you’re wrong.

Even the big daddy of dating sites, Match. com, has its epic fails. A San Antonio man, who happened to be a convicted murderer, was troll- ing for dates on the matchmaking site until a local paper revealed his shady past.

Match took down Abraham Fortune’s profile as a way of minimizing the backlash that ensued, but the damage was done. Fortune’s presence on- line alone should be enough to tell you that you need to be vigilant about who you’re meeting and how much you’re revealing about yourself to a complete stranger.

In addition to looking for a site that does background checks like True, you may want to bite the bullet and join a paying site if you’re serious about looking for love online. Sure, the beauty of sites like OKCupid is that they’re free, but that also means that anyone can join.

A scam artist/predator would be more inclined to go the way of the Craigslist personal ads then slap down his credit card (if he even has one), but then again, you never know who’s re- ally sitting behind the other computer.

You also want to check if the site you’re thinking about joining is a member of the Better Business Bureau.21 The BBB can how many com- plaints have been filed against a particular service, as well as why the complaint has been filed.

ConsumerAffair.com 22 is another massive database that logs user grievances. If you’re taking the time to actually look on one of these security sites, be thorough. Make sure you read ev- ery bitch and moan instead of simply skimming through quickly.

The most important thing I can tell you is here to use common sense. When you start chat- ting up a guy online, never, ever give him your full name or phone number right away. If he has access to those two very important things, what’s going to prevent him from digging up more dirt online? Much of our personal informa- tion is on the Internet these days, and it won’t take much sleuthing to pull up your Facebook profile, Twitter account or even address using WhitePages.com.

This is what you should create an email address purely to respond to your online dates; it should be completely separate from the one you use on a daily basis. Never use your real name or anything that could identify you when creating this particular address.

And, as I’m sure you all know, if you do hap- pen to miss the signs that the guy you’re into is secretly bad to the bone, make sure you meet in a public place during the daylight hours.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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