In 2015, landing a date means hightailing it to Google in an effort to glean any bit of digital knowledge you can find on the person, while simultaneously digging up his or her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat feeds.
Or, maybe you won’t do any of that because you consider it “stalking” and prefer the mystery that comes with dating someone new. Eh, bad idea: Going in blind was the dating method of the 20th century, but in today’s world, mystery isn’t as sexy when we have the tools at our fingertips to make sure we’re not agreeing to go out with a deadbeat, a psycho, or a general weirdo.
Take it from former FBI criminal profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole, who says doing some stealthy background checking on a new guy is a smart idea. “Women can often be duped by the trappings of normalcy,” she says. These include a charming personality, Leonardo DiCaprio–level looks, a slick wardrobe, or a killer apartment. But O’Toole warns us not to be fooled: “All those are superficial and in no way indicative of their character.”
Lucky for us, you don’t need to be an FBI special agent to find any (possible) skeletons in the closet. We’ve collected some expert tips on how to conduct your own “background check” without looking like a creeper.
Do a Google search (yes, really).
Quick, easy, and fast, this is the most basic way to find out if your date is normal or a complete looney tune. If there’s something—say, for instance, a few tweets—that makes you feel uneasy, it’s good to speak up.
“If there is something that is questionable, you can take your investigation a little further by casually questioning him about it,” says Pat Brosnan, a former NYPD detective and CEO of Brosnan Risk Consulting. “If he lies or denies, that is an automatic red flag,” he adds.
Another easy test? A quick scan of what’s on LinkedIn vs. what’s on his company website. If he tells you he’s a “vice president of global operations” but the firm’s website lists him as an assistant, look out.
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Check their digital footprint.
In these modern times, practically everyone uses some sort of social media at some point in their lives, even if they’re a bit of a technophobe. You don’t have to be “friends” or even follow each other to learn more about your new date. Usually, all you need is his name.
“Online posts describe who they are. If he’s always taking pictures with different ladies or getting wasted, and that isn’t your lifestyle, he should be disqualified,” relationship coach and radio host Femi Ogunjinmi says. “If you ask your new guy to be Facebook friends, and he refuses, he may be hiding something.”
Be your own private investigator.
Even if you’re not a reporter, background-check companies like Instant Checkmate let you easily (and anonymously) search through criminal records, birth records, public social media profiles, financial history, and driving records. For around $27 a month for unlimited access, you can play your own gumshoe.
The site takes about 15 minutes to complete and all you need to do is type in your date’s first and last name and state of residence. And no need to feel like a #creeper here, as this is all public information anyway. These are the same types of services employers and landlords use to screen potential employees and tenants. You can also find a more detailed list of credible background check companies through Consumer Affairs.
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Be wary of red flags.
If your man checks out in a basic online sweep or if he doesn’t have any digital footprint, another sleuth move is to simply pay attention to his actions. “Be aware of how he treats others around him, mood swings, sudden outburst, and his drinking habits,” advises O’Toole.
These are all red flags—and for good reason, as they can be indicative of a possibly criminal record, she adds.
And there are more warning signs—if he never answers his phone, sends erratic texts at odd hours, or has chunks of time that seem unaccounted for. And the major deal breakers? Constantly changing jobs or getting evicted or foreclosed.
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Make boundaries (and stick to them).
Doing a little background check is not the same thing as full-blown stalking. But your investigation can easily cross the line into creeper territory, depending on how you gather your information.
So here’s what not to do: Don’t physically follow the person to get your information. Other big no-no’s? “Constantly calling or texting to see if he answers, asking to see his phone without reason, and insisting he call you at certain times throughout the day and night are over-the-top behaviors on your part,” says O’Toole.
It’s important to remember that it comes down to feeling comfortable with your date. If, at the end of the day—and after your investigation—you still have concerns about someone, walk away. Trust us on that one.