Sunday, January 08, 2006

Online Dating Service TRUE(R) Sues Convicted Sex Offender; Convicted Felon Caught Misrepresenting Self to Online Daters

DALLAS (PRNewswire) -- The leading online relationship service TRUE(R) filed a lawsuit in United States District Court against convicted sex offender Dr. Robert Wells of Walnut Creek, California.

Dr. Wells was convicted in 2001 of attempted lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 years, a felony Contemporaneous press reports indicate that Dr. Wells allegedly planned to "abduct and rape" his underage victim. Upon becoming a member of TRUE, Dr. Wells claimed he was not a felon. TRUE believes this false representation violated both federal and state law.

Upon discovering Dr. Wells' felony history, TRUE took immediate action to increase the safety of its membership base, reporting Dr. Wells to appropriate authorities and taking the unprecedented step of filing suit against Dr. Wells. TRUE is seeking a permanent injunction preventing Dr. Wells from accessing the TRUE.com website and contacting its members. In addition, TRUE believes that Dr. Wells violated federal wire fraud laws when he falsely represented himself to TRUE and its members as a non-felon. This charge could subject Dr. Wells to additional fines, penalties and jail time.

"When I founded this company, I made a commitment to our members that we would do our best to create a wholesome environment for courtship -- one that includes a safer dating experience," said Herb Vest, founder and CEO of TRUE. "As part of that commitment, we continue to lead the industry by implementing criminal background and marital screening to help weed out potentially dangerous individuals. According to the Department of Justice's Criminal Offender Statistics, approximately 67.5 percent of convicted criminals released from prison are rearrested for a felony or serious crime making criminal background screening a must for the online dating industry. Our criminal background screening covers approximately 94% of all U.S. felonies and over 170 million criminal records, but it cannot catch every criminal. This is why background screening is simply the first step toward increasing the safety of our members. Our member safety program also relies heavily on feedback from our members, who we encourage to directly report suspicious persons or activity on our website."

Some United States jurisdictions restrict access to criminal conviction data, which prevents many companies from locating complete criminal history information when they choose to run a background screening. For example, the California statewide sex offender registry is not available to businesses such as True.com. This lack of access to complete records made it more difficult to discover that Dr. Wells was a felony sex offender, since his crime occurred in a jurisdiction that does not allow companies to access his conviction information.

"It is sad the State of California maintains laws that actually protect the privacy of criminals," Vest said. "I would like to see convicted felony records opened to the public in all jurisdictions to better protect our consumers and our children."

TRUE became aware of Dr. Wells' sex offender status when a TRUE.com member directly contacted the company. "When I saw Dr. Wells on TRUE.com, I contacted the company immediately. TRUE's employees took my concern seriously, promptly investigated my claim and quickly removed Dr. Wells' profile from the website," said TRUE.com member Brooke Benson*. "Even more disturbing, I previously found Dr. Wells on several other major online dating sites, including eHarmony. In fact, I contacted eHarmony and their reaction was so non-aggressive that I continue to fear for the safety of eHarmony's members. I believe Dr. Wells' profile is still available on these other dating websites, allowing him to potentially prey on their members. I applaud TRUE for taking my complaint seriously and working to better protect the safety of its members," added Ms. Benson.

"We prominently warn consumers that if they misrepresent their criminal history or marital status for the purpose of gaining access to communication privileges with our subscribers, they could be subject to civil and criminal penalties under federal and state law," said Vest. "There is a new sheriff in town, and we mean what we say in our warnings. I challenge the rest of the
online relationship and dating industry to follow our lead and show a similar concern for their members' safety."

TRUE, which since its inception has been a strong advocate of safer online dating, is a member of the Safer Online Dating Alliance (SODA) and continues to lead the industry in pursuing issues to further increase online dating safety. TRUE works with legislators, victim advocacy groups, law enforcement officials and other parties concerned about safety issues to raise awareness
of the need for greater consumer protection and public safety in the world of online dating.

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