- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To the list of modern dating essentials — breath mints, a clean shirt, the ability to sit through a chick flick or comic book movie with minimal fuss — add the following: Do-it-yourself background checks.

Such is the idea behind InvestiDate, a website and series of classes that brings romance into the TSA era, teaching singles how to use public information and Internet sleuthing to vet potential romantic partners.

Found the perfect online match? Just met cute with the possible man or woman of your dreams? Not so fast, counsels InvestiDate founder Maria Coder, a 35-year-old public relations manager from New York City.

Your future significant other could have a criminal background, be married, running a financial scam or hiding a substance abuse problem.

At the very least, they’re probably akin to a potential professional basketball draftee: a bit shorter and heavier in person than officially listed.

Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times.
Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times. more >

“I find men often lie about their height, and whether their hair is thinning,” said Ms. Coder. “For women, it’s shaving five or ten pounds off their weight. Those are white lies. Not a big deal. But it becomes a big deal when people lie about what they do, where they live, who they are.”

The ubiquity of online dating services and social networking, Ms. Coder added, has made big-deal romantic deception both easier and more prevalent.

Case in point? News reports that con artists are using the names of real U.S. military personnel to create fake online dating profiles.

There’s also the story of Stephan Pittman, a convicted Maryland sex offender recently arrested for impersonating professional football quarterback Vince Young on the Internet and in Philadelphia and Washington-area night clubs in order to solicit sexual favors and fraudulent charitable contributions from star-struck, unsuspecting young women.

“It’s imperative in today’s dating world that you know what you’re getting yourself into,” Ms. Coder said. “You don’t really know who you’re dealing with when you meet them online — you might get an 80-year-old guy posing as a 25-year-old. That in itself poses a huge safety risk.”

Nothing to Hide

Of course, one woman’s prudence is another woman’s hyper-vigilance, and one woman’s precautions are another woman’s intrusive, self-defeating biographical strip searches. Critics say InvestiDate is scaring women into scaring off the very men they’re hoping to date.

Noting that Ms. Coder advises her students to send out a strand of a dating partner’s hair for online drug testing, a British newspaper article accused her of “cashing in on female paranoia.” Meanwhile, when InvestiDate was featured on New York magazine’s website, anonymous commenters labeled class attendees “psycho,” “scared of the world in general” and — most damning — “on their way to spinsterhood.”

Unsurprisingly, Ms. Coder takes exception with the negative characterizations. Her students, she said, are satisfied. One of them, a neuroscientist, used Ms. Coder’s techniques to research potential employers. And the drug test suggestion is meant as a last resort for people whose partners exhibit serious behavioral issues — not as a first-date preliminary.

Besides, Ms. Coder said, people who have nothing to hide hide nothing.

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