How Well Do You Know Your Digital Acquaintance?

Last week 40-year-old Ingrid Lyne, was murdered at her home in Renton, Washington. Lyne, a single mother of three who worked as a nurse in Seattle told friends she was going on a date to a Mariners baseball game Friday night with someone she met online.

At some point in the evening, her date, John Robert Charlton, allegedly killed her and dismembered her body in the bathtub of her home. Some of Lyne’s body parts were later discovered in the recycling bins of a neighboring area. Charlton has since been arrested and there is strong case against him (including DNA, cell tower records, fingerprints, etc.).

I find this entire story upsetting in many ways. Lyne’s three girls are left motherless. All of Lyne’s friends and family will be left to grapple with her loss. And the grizzly nature of her murder adds another layer of horror.

But what I also find upsetting is the long rap sheet on Charlton and the high probability that Lyne, his date and ultimately his victim, knew nothing about.

John Robert Charlton was convicted of a 2009 felony theft in Montana, negligent driving in Washington state in 1998, and a second-degree felony for aggravated robbery in Utah in 2006. Court records also show a battery charge in Idaho in 2009.

His parents, Ray and JoAnn Charlton, once sought a restraining order against him, testifying that he was prone to drinking heavily and could fly into violent, abusive outbursts that left them worried for their own safety. They added that he had a habit of picking fights with them, especially when drunk.

These details were obviously not included in Charlton’s online dating profile. So how should women ensure their safety when going on dates with men who they know relatively little about? Are background checks the answer?

In 2015, the district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles claimed Uber had failed to detect the criminal records of 25 drivers it had hired in the two cities, resulting in a civil suit that claims Uber has misled consumers by advertising “industry-leading” driver screening practices.

Taxi licensing commissions typically use a background-check service called Live Scan, which requires a potential drivers’ fingerprints, whereas Uber uses services provided by the companies Accurate and/or Checkr which do not use fingerprints.

Fingerprints allow a background-check service to access the FBI’s criminal record database. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has said that a background check without fingerprints is “completely worthless” though Checkr says its methods are just as good. So how did they miss 25 criminals?

I was shocked to discover not even babysitting services require basic background checks (though they typically allow babysitters to opt in, at an additional cost). None of them require the fingerprint variety.

But even if you do intend to run a background check on your potential date/roommate/babysitter, aside from being pricey and sometimes slow, there are some reasonable limits on what you can ascertain about an individual. In addition to needing employer information and an address, even a basic background check also requires a Social Security number—something you are highly unlikely to obtain.

What more can you do?

If you are going on a date with someone or considering them as a roommate, you have probably already checked them out on Facebook. Go ahead and do a Google search as well.

Another source worth checking is PeekYou. It aggregates public information available about an individual and pulls it together for you. This site only includes information that people have chosen to share about themselves online, but in a short amount of time, you can discover quite a lot. Just ensure the person you are trying to look up is actually the one you end up reading about (this will be very difficult if the name is John Smith).

It can also be helpful to check out the National Sex Offender Registry which keeps track of where convicted sex offenders currently live and lists the crimes the have committed.

These steps are really just basic precautions, and though you would be remiss to skip them, virtually all criminals are aware their legal histories exist online and are likely to make adjustments in how they present themselves to avoid detection (especially if they have not left their life of crime behind). Subtle changes in appearance and going by a middle name can be enough to throw someone off, given the large number of duplicate names.

So that leaves you with one option. In an age where it has become commonplace to engage in business and romance with those you know relatively little about, the only real way to protect yourself is to train. Train as if your next date were with John Robert Charlton.

Leave a Reply