When Seattle mom of three Ingrid Lyne met John Robert Charlton, she thought she had found a catch. He appeared handsome and clean-cut, and described himself as “self-employed” on social media.
It was only after her dismembered body parts were found in garbage bags and at recycling centers that a darker picture of Lyne’s date began to emerge. In reality, Charlton was a homeless day laborer with a criminal history spanning six states, which included arrests for felony theft and aggravated robbery.
In addition, his parents had filed a restraining order against him in 2006 after he allegedly took the serial killer movie Hannibal down from a shelf and told his mother she should watch it and “beware.”
The fact is that, while Facebook-stalking and Googling dates is fun — and often yields eye-opening information — most criminals don’t post their arrests on Instagram.
So, how can you figure out if a new love interest is legitimate?
Civil and Criminal Records
It’s best to start with the basics: What’s his (or her) name?
The first and last name is key information to starting a criminal background check, ideally with a middle name and birth date so that you can make sure that you are searching for the right person.
Obviously, if you have serious concerns, it’s a good idea to hire a professional investigator, but a lot of information can be found online for free.
Some of the $19.99 background checks give good information, like past addresses, but in my opinion they should be used only as a starting point. To get a more complete picture, you will need to search for a criminal record in every state and county that the person has ever lived in.
A good strategy is to start at the state level, and work your way down through the county and city court links. Many of these records can how be found online.
In other cases, when records aren’t available online, you have to go to the courthouse to dig through them in person — a bit of a pain, but considering the stakes, totally worth it.
Some cities, like Miami, have free and easily searchable online databases, while other counties — for example, in California — charge a fee for searches.
Most federal court records, which cover a lot of serious criminal and financial crimes, are available online through a government database known as Pacer which charges 10 cents per page to view records.
Civil records are another important piece of the puzzle, because they can tell you if someone has been married, divorced, or sued multiple times. They can also reveal information including bankruptcies and court orders to pay debts.
Sex Offender Search
The U.S. Department of Justice provides a free, searchable National Sex Offender Public Website, and each state also has a sex-offender registry. I always search both.
It is also a good idea to keep in mind that sex-offender-registry requirements vary by state. For example, all sex offenders California and South Carolina must comply with registration requirements for life, regardless of the crimes committed. In Utah, on the other hand, many offenders are removed from the registry after 10 years.
Finally, if your love interest claims to be a professional — whether they are a real estate agent, PI, or barber — it’s worth checking the secretary of state’s office to find out if they are licensed in the state where they are practicing.
Dating a lawyer? The American Bar Association has information about lawyer licensing. Once you have verified their name and license to practice, many times you can view any complaints lodged against the license, or restrictions placed on them by the state.
Not to take the fun out of spontaneous Tinder matches, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
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Main photo: John Charlton (left) [Montana Department of Corrections] and Ingrid Lyne (right) [Wikimedia Commons]