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Never mind whether your date is smart or good-looking. How do you know you aren't flirting with a felon?
For a small fee, a nascent crop of companies wants to help you find out by running background checks on the potential flames you encounter on Match.com, eHarmony or any of the nation's nearly 1,500 dating Web sites.
At the same time, at least two states, New York and New Jersey, have begun regulating Internet dating sites, and legal experts say they believe changes to the liability laws that protect such sites are on the horizon.
And you thought your mother was the only one who wanted to vet your love life.
The focus on background screenings comes as some 20 million Americans are using dating sites, more than double the number five years ago, according to the market research firm IBISWorld. While they are finding casual dates and even love, they are also encountering married people pretending to be single or, worse, sexual predators and convicted felons.
No one has put a number on how much violence stems from dating sites, according to groups that keep track of rape and other violent crimes, like the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Yet plenty of crime stories begin with two people skimming each other's online dating profiles. Consider the widely reported case of Jeffrey Marsalis, a serial rapist in Philadelphia who met his victims on Match.com.
Such perils have been around since the dawn of the Internet, an ideal medium for complex cover-ups. But now that online dating is a billion-dollar industry, state officials, public safety advocates and enterprising businesses are calling for further safeguards.
Whether it is possible, however, to effectively screen people and make sites more truthful is unclear. After all, members are not always honest about their age and weight.
"What we want to do is provide some degree of safety," said Robert Buchholz, a retired New York State Police captain who, with Andrew J. Scott, a former police chief in Boca Raton, Fla., founded MyMatchChecker.com, a Web site that went live in April, enabling people to request background checks on anyone they have met on a dating site.
Mr. Buchholz and Mr. Scott, who each have more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, said that having daughters inspired them to try to make online dating safer. Their company offers a basic background search for $9.95.
In addition to Web sites, a flurry of mobile phone apps aim to make background checks as quick and easy as ordering a pizza: Just plug in a couple of facts like a name and birth date. ValiMate, the creator of the Instant National Criminal Search app, even allows users to send the results of the check to a friend for added safety.