My friend Kat and I were recently talking about the merits of online dating websites. She’s been using a personals website for a while and hasn’t had much luck so far.

I go back and forth about the viability of online dating. I know of at least a half dozen people who met someone online and married them. So I think it’s a worthwhile venture, if marriage is your ultimate goal. I guess it probably supports other goals too, like just meeting new people.

I get a lot of emails through websites that show my professional profile but I’ve never met any of those people in person. We live in a global community. I know that there are plenty of ways to resolve issues around falling for someone you meet online, if the people involved are mature and can think creatively.

However, there are some downsides to meeting people online. It’s easy to get taken in by someone who claims to be a lot of things that they are not. This happens a lot to my friends who date online. Falling for one handsome photo on someone’s website and then doing a little research and finding other photos that don’t even look like the same person. And certainly don’t reflect how the person presented himself.

What puzzles me about “fake” photos is this: won’t there one day be a day of reckoning? Or do they just assume that they will never meet in person so the other person won’t find out what they really look like? Then again, I don’t know if the people describing themselves are out and out lying, or just don’t see themselves clearly. I asked Kat for her input.

“It has to do with the angle of the photo,” says Kat. “Maybe in that one shot they just looked really good. So, of course, that’s the one they use.” That’s possible, I suppose. Still, I have this feeling that information was withheld. And that hardly seems fair.

Kat refuses to get into an “e-relationship” with anyone she meets online. That surprised me. Isn’t email a great way to get to know someone? But her explanation made sense: “Some people want to captivate you over email, because they know they couldn’t do it in person. They write- and rewrite- well-crafted emails to you, to put themselves in the best light possible.” The kicker being, by the time you meet them, you’re already infatuated. Kat isn’t having any of it with the men who email her through dating websites and she insists that they meet in person right away, even just for coffee. Interesting.

When I researched this topic, I looked at a lot of the online personals websites. I like looking at them. Maybe they’re a little too technical and calculated to “match” singles for my taste, but there’s something really romantic to me about meeting someone from somewhere else. Like they dropped out of the sky to be there just for you. But this time, I couldn’t be swayed by rows of smiling teeth; I moved right over to a website that talks about the lies that people tell on online dating websites instead.

One letter I read was from a woman who created a fake profile to “test” her online boyfriend. That seemed a little extreme. I mean, it’s not like they’re married. They were barely even dating. She did mention, however, that he sent “fake woman” the same letters he wrote to her, with some minor changes. Now that would make me mad. Finding out that something I always thought was written just for me was really written for someone else, anyone else, would really tick me off.

And there are more than just plagiarized letters of devotion circulating through the online personals websites. A study that compared online profiles with the people who created them was done by a Cornell University researcher, and the results were surprising (at least to me). The online dating study focused on profiles from reputable websites, like match.com, Yahoo, American Singles and Webdate.

The results showed that more than 50% of the men and almost 40% of women in the study lied about their height. More than 60% of men and women on the online dating websites lied about their weight. 24% of men and 13% of women lied about their age.

In order to constitute an untruth, the online dating website profile discrepancies had to be more than ½” difference in height, more than five pounds difference in weight and a year or more difference in age. So the results may not be as dire as they seem. Still, it’s an interesting comment on how we see ourselves, vs. how we really are.

For now, I’ll continue to take a pass on online dating. I think it’s a viable option; it’s just not an option for me.

Excerpt from an online pop-up ad for a dating site: “Get 7 DAYS FREE on True.com, the only dating site that screens for felons and married people. Date safer, date smarter.”

Now if that doesn’t sound like an endorsement for online dating, I don’t know what is.

Kat told me that online daters think that people who are online all the time or just "really frequently" are to be avoided. Apparently this shows some sort of dysfunction. Or you could just go to PlayerSnitch, the online dating liars’ website. They allow users to report the following information about the playas who post online at personals websites:

Married In a relationship Last relationship is not over Only wants sex Dates multiple people Sleeps with multiple people Lies about age Lies about height Lies weight Lies about body type Lies about grey or balding hair Lies about having children Lies about employment status Lies about financial security Lies about where they live Lies about health Lies about smoking Lies about drinking Lies about drug use Lies about what they are seeking Lies about education Posted old or misleading photos Overly secretive Is moody Has a bad temper Is a control freak Is overly jealous Will not commit to a relationship Is an active alcoholic Is a drug addict Stalking Cyber stalking Threatening Is physically violent Steals money or property Commits fraud for personal gain Forges signatures or documents Improperly transfers assets to self Sexual assault Claim of sexual interference by a child

Gosh! There’s a lot to be wary about. Before you agree to meet anyone that you found online, do a little research:

* Google them and search on their name and city.

* Google their email address; you'd be surprised at what that can net you in search results.

* Look for them on other personals websites to look for discrepancies in profiles.

* Look at the clerk of courts for their town and see if they’ve ever been brought up on any charges (I do that one all the time after meeting someone new).

Or check out PlayerSnitch.com, the website that helps “protect you from the darker side of Internet dating.”