Mon, Nov 20, 2006 - Page 6 News List

New Yorkers turn to private eyes for help with romance

THE OBSERVER , NEW YORK

Preparing for a date in New York can be labor-intensive. Right perfume or cologne? Check. Smart clothes? Check. Report from private investigator? Check.

In the city's hot-and-heavy dating scene, the latest trend for singles is to check exactly who they are meeting for dinner with the help of the city's famed private detective agencies.

Many New Yorkers are no longer taking their romantic prospects at their word, instead running extensive background searches that cover criminal records, education, previous jobs and address history.

Sitting in his private office on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Skipp Porteous runs Sherlock Investigations. He gets numerous requests from wealthy clients to run background searches on their potential dates.

He charges US$500 for a comprehensive background check or US$195 an hour for a two-person team to carry out a surveillance.

It can be worth it. One recent client's date had claimed to be a published author and a college professor. Porteous proved he was lying. Another woman's prospective husband was eager to join a free dating service until he realized that the "woman" who had been e-mailing him the generous offer was in fact Porteous, using a false name.

The explosive growth of online dating in the US is responsible for the increased use of background checks. Whereas online dating is still seen as slightly desperate in much of Europe, in the US it has become a normal part of life. It has also made it easier for people to create fake identities and to invent jobs, homes and lifestyles that they simply do not have.

Some online dating Web sites now conduct background checks on those who sign up to weed out people who are potentially violent or dangerous.

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