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How to perform a background check before your online date

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Follow these steps to protect yourself from predators (and profile exaggerators)

Online dating is at an all-time high — in fact, it's ballooned into a billion-dollar industry. According to at least one poll, it's the second most common way to find a significant other (the first being introduced by a friend).

Additionally, according to research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online dating may have altered the dynamics and outcome of online dating and marriage. More than one out of every four couples meet online, and more than one third of U.S. marriage begin with online dating. Not only that, but apparently those couples who married after meeting online are slightly happier than couples who have met through more conventional means.

With over 50 million people on Tinder, 20 million people using eHarmony, 15 million on Match, and multiple other dating sites and apps available to use, it's clear there's a dramatic shift in how people are meeting their significant others.

While online dating increases your chances of finding a mate, it also makes it easier to come in contact with potentially dangerous people — especially with the rise of catfish scams, in which users post false information to trick people into a relationship to get money, humiliate them, or just because they're bored.

It's no wonder people are getting more cautious about who they meet online. A study in 2013 by Pew Research Center found that 29 percent of online daters search for information about their possible dates before meeting them.

If you're one of those people who likes to err on the cautious side, here's how to run an online dating background check.

Use Search Engines

Because a lot of information is public, the first place you should start when doing an online dating background check is by using your favorite search engine.

You'd be surprised by what you can find using Google, Bing or Yahoo. While you might not be able to find important details like whether they've been arrested or evicted, search engines will typically help you get enough data that you can cross-reference it to find what you want. Use the public information you come up with as a general starting point, then branch out and pinpoint the information you really want from there.

Use Social Media

Looking at social media profiles will give you a better understanding of their interests, hobbies and friends. Check their updates to see if they have any attitudes or characteristics you don't agree with.

Facebook: This is probably where you will want to start your search. Facebook is still king of social media, and if the profile is public, you'll be able to dig up a ton of dirt. You'll be able to go through their photos to observe their preferred activities and the company they keep. Any group memberships or page likes can help you determine their interests and values. However, if a Facebook profile is set to private, you won't be able to get much, so you'll want to move on to a different social network.

Twitter: While this network may not be as detailed as some other social networking sites when it comes to revealing background information, you can definitely glean some useful information. While it's possible to set an account to private, most people don't use that setting, so you should be able to get an idea of your date's personal tastes, interests, beliefs, and perspectives.

LinkedIn: While you won't get much in terms of your target's personal interests, you will be able to check out work experience, which can help you verify that the person is telling the truth.

Instagram: This network is quickly rising to the top — it's a great way to see what your date likes to do for fun.

Check Criminal Records

There are two ways you can run a criminal check:

Since the majority of criminal records are public, you can do a search yourself. The caveat is that you need to know where a person has been convicted of a crime. For example, if a person was born in Brooklyn but currently lives in Manhattan, then you would want to check both of those counties. The trouble is that it's quite possible the person you're checking out was convicted of a crime in Queens, or any other county in the U.S. — which means that you might not find a criminal record.

Try running a state check too, but note that some states only have a handful of county records on file, while others have a majority of the records in their database. Some states (Delaware, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Wyoming) don't even have online records.

If you weren't able to find anything or don't have the time, you could run a national background check online using sites like, Instant Checkmake or BeenVerified. These sites will scour multiple databases to provide you with information pertaining to arrests, convictions of felonies and misdemeanors, court records, sex offenses and any outstanding warrants. All you need to do is provide a name and run a search.

Using the information you gain from these various searches can ensure that you stay safe and enjoy your date (and many more dates to come).

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