Mary Kay Beckman, 50, was just looking for love but she brought home more than she'd bargained for. After just a few dates with Wade Ridley, she was smitten, yet she had no idea that his intention was to smite her. Ridley had no prior criminal record. There was nothing particularly suspicious about him and yet what began as an eight-day whirlwind romance has become a $10 million lawsuit that Beckman is waging against Match.com.
On Jan. 21st, 2012, after she realized that it was not a match with Ridley and had called it quits on their short-lived fling, Beckman allegedly came home to find Ridley in her garage harboring a knife and the intent to kill. Beckman narrowly escaped the attack with multiple stab wounds and brain trauma due to several kicks to the head. Ridley's next ex-girlfriend was not so lucky. One month later, he allegedly broke into the apartment of Anne Simenson, 62, and murdered her much in the same manner he had attempted with Beckman.
Even after these horrific experiences, however, I maintain that online dating is not inherently more dangerous than meeting someone in a bar or through another anonymous avenue. Beckman deems Match.com to be culpable for her misfortune because the online dating giant does not advertise the risks of online dating and, "lulls women into a false sense of security." Her lawyer said, "Match does nothing to ensure the safety of its people, but you pay $30, you think you're getting some type of protection."
No one should have to go through the terror that Beckman experienced, and yet I take tremendous issue with her lawyer's statement. The correlation between paying for access to potential dates and security is an unrealistic expectation. If she paid $30 for drinks at a bar and went home with a murderer would the establishment also be responsible for her fate? If she bumped into a handsome stranger in a museum should the cost of admission give her an indication about the quality of the people there?
We are well aware that all you need is an email address to open an account on most online dating sites. How many of us have second, third, and even phantom free email accounts at our disposal? So where's the security in that?
Not only did I meet my husband online, but I've also helped numerous singles become part of a couple online. There is risk in online dating but there is also risk in crossing the street, driving your car, and even in staying indoors with the windows shut (what if there is an earthquake or hurricane?) You are responsible for your own security online and in life. If you have any apprehension about online dating after hearing Beckman's story, I offer you these basic tips that may help protect yourself from a similar fate:
1. Trust your gut. If something tells you that this guy or girl is not right, don't second guess it. Our animal instincts prevail in dating, so if your antennae go up when you're with someone, beware. Men are more likely to assume that they are safe but keep in mind that sociopathic behavior knows no gender.
2. Always meet them there. Until you get to know and trust someone you meet online, it's always a good idea to meet your date in a public place. Do not let them pick you up or know the exact location of your home. There was one man that I met online before my husband who I never became comfortable with. Even after a month of seeing him, as handsome as he was, every time he asked me to come to his place, my gut said no. I never found out if he had nefarious intentions before calling it quits, but I am glad that I erred on the side of caution.
3. Phone a friend. Make sure at least one person knows the name and phone number of the person you're meeting and where you'll be with them. Say you'll text them when you get home. If you do not do so or if they can't make contact with you, instruct them that the next call should be to the date location and then the police. The chances of something happening are remote but I recommend having a backup plan just in case.
4. Do Your Research. Always Google and Facebook check your date before going out. You're looking for any inconsistencies between what they said in their profile and what your search turns up. If they have no online identity at all, that can also be a red flag that something is amiss. Michael Fertik of Reputation.com recommends that, before meeting, you talk to your date on the phone and test them a little them on what they claim to be an expert in, "Ask yourself if the person online looks and feels like the one you're talking to," Fertik says.
Online dating can be a terrific tool for expanding your social circle and dating options. You should always keep your guard up in dating, regardless of the avenue through which you're meeting dates. Beckman's story makes headlines because it is so unusual, the worst that most online daters encounter is stale conversation or a date that is 10 lbs. heavier than expected. If you remain cautious and alert you can improve your chances of letting the right one in.