Prudence or paranoia? Online dating detectives push romantic background checks

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“No one is doing anything illegal or in a trench coat hiding behind a bush with ‘Pink Panther’ music,” she said. “It’s about looking for the information that is already out there. … If you find out your partner is an alcoholic and gambles away all their money and you’re OK with that, then go ahead. Just be aware of the situation you’re getting into. Wouldn’t you rather know?”

As for the “road to spinsterhood”? “I kind of thought that after people found out about InvestiDate, I would never get a date again,” Ms. Coder said. “But I just got a note from someone from England who wants to go on a date. He sent me a link to his Facebook page and asked me to investigate him.”

Dating Clues

During a recent class held in a Manhattan office building, Ms. Coder deployed a laptop and a projector to teach her students — mostly women in their 30s — how to analyze the online profiles of prospective love matches.

Tip No. 1: If someone uses the word “honest” to describe him or herself, they probably aren’t.

Tip No. 2: Check photos carefully. If a picture was taken at a bar or restaurant that has since shut down, it’s probably old; if it’s a close-up shot, it could mean a man is shorter than he claims, or that a woman is cropping out a boyfriend; if it’s a series of vacation photos, it could mean the subject already has a significant other, because no one not named Kardashian travels with a personal photographer.

Tip No. 3: Input the profile’s text into the “Gender Genie,” an online algorithm that supposedly can ascertain whether a profile was written by a man or a woman.

“That one is more for the guys than the girls,” Ms. Coder said with a laugh. “There are a lot of hookers online, but also a lot of drag queens.”

When using online dating sites or Craigslist, Ms. Coder advises students to set up two profiles: one of them real, the other a “control post.” While the real profile contains a person’s actual information — height, hair color, likes and so on — the control post is fabricated and exaggerated.

Brunette? Claim you’re blonde. Short? Say you’re tall. Demure? Sound licentious.

The goal, Ms. Coder said, is to ferret out dishonest potential suitors who write to both profiles — and include contradictory details in their two romantic pitches.

“It’s helped me with a couple of guys who responded to both posts,” said Jen, a 33-year-old aspiring actress and Manhattan resident who has taken Ms. Coder’s course. “They seemed nice and genuine in one post, and then in the other they only wanted one thing — and it wasn’t my mind.”

The control post idea occurred to Ms. Coder after she broke up with a previous dating partner, an Italian graduate student she met on Craigslist.

“We had gone on several dates, and one Friday night he canceled, saying he had to study,” she said. “So I went on Craigslist, said, ‘My date just canceled, I’m all dressed up and ready to go out for drinks.’ And he responded to me! The guy was just dumb.”

Other ways to suss out the truth about your date? If they claim they’re a doctor or lawyer, check with the appropriate professional licensing organizations; if they say they went to an Ivy League school, call the alumni office; if they’re popping pills that aren’t coming from an amber prescription bottle, run the pills’ identifying number stamp in a drug-identifying database — it could be something harmless, like an over-the-counter headache remedy, or something dangerous, like an addictive painkiller.

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