When you swipe, connect or match with a potential mate online, do you really know who the person behind the screen is?
Myrtle Beach resident Megan Graham thought she knew who she was talking to when she connected with a man on Plenty of Fish, an online dating service. Turns out, she said, he was wanted for rape.
“We got food and cruised around in my truck,” the 20-year-old said. “While sitting there, I scrolled past an article for a man wanted for raping a 17-year-old and it had his face.”
Graham said in that moment, she remembers asking herself, “how can I get away from him as fast and casually as possible?”
“I drove him home and said nothing to him again,” she added.
Graham explained how her potential “date from hell” changed her perception about online dating. It was her last date with a person she met online.
“You definitely don’t know people by their online personalities and it’s easy to keep a persona on social media,” she added.
Last year, a Myrtle Beach man was sentenced to 24 years in prison after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman he met online.
David James Welch, 21, was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping.
On Jan. 8, 2015, Welch met with the woman for the first time after chatting online for a few days. During that first meeting, Welch tricked the woman into driving to an apartment complex where he said he lived. He then pointed a gun at her, forced her to have sex with him, then stole her purse and cellphone.
Assistant Solicitor Mary-Ellen Walter, with the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, told The Sun News there are currently two pending cases involving similar incidents with victims who were sexually assaulted by men they met on online dating sites.
Online records show Horry County police arrested Brandon Lee Edwards on Valentine’s Day of last year. He’s charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct.
Charles Dakota Smith, is also charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct. The Coastal Carolina University Department of Public Safety arrested him on Oct. 24, 2016, according to records.
Nathan Howard, of Conway, said the first time he met a woman from Tinder was the “worst” date he’s ever gone on.
Howard explained how he went and picked the woman up with his brother-in-law to go to a local bar. She immediately asked his brother-in-law if he could give her change for a $100 bill.
After the night went on, the woman said she wanted to go home and as they were leaving the bar, Howard said she attacked a random man and hit him in the head.
Howard also said the woman kicked his vehicle and when his brother-in-law attempted to break the $100 bill, it was counterfeit.
“I had gone on dates before that always went decent. However, taking that one into mind made me a tad more cautious on who I set things up with,” the 22-year-old said.
Online dating safety tips
Capt. Joey Crosby with the Myrtle Beach Police Department advises people to be very careful with who you meet online.
“A lot of times you feel comfortable talking with someone through a keyboard because you’ve had numerous conversations over texting on a cell phone or on a computer, but you need to be very careful with your personal information,” Crosby warned.
“Do not to give out key information such as date of births and things that can be connected to passwords and things such as that,” he said.
Crosby also stresses the importance of a first meeting in public and driving to the destination in separate vehicles.
“If you do decide to meet someone from an online dating site, we strongly encourage you to meet that person in public,” he explained.
“When you meet that person, tell a friend what you’re doing – tell them where you’re going, give an approximate time when you will arrive at the destination, about what time you should arrive home, so that way someone knows where you’re at at all times and knows your plan of action.”