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Racine Police Chief Art HowellAfter a Racine woman was attacked in her home by a man she met online, Racine police Chief Art Howell Saturday issued a statement advising residents to exercise extreme caution when arranging these kinds of dates.

In his statement, Howell pointed out that this recent local incident and the murders of two women found in two suitcases started in much the same way; in online chat rooms.

“This … should not be interpreted as an incitement against online dating sites, or those who choose to use such sites, but rather a reminder to use extreme caution when interacting online in general. Whether communicating with unknown individuals on Craigslist to purchase goods, or using social media for dating purposes, citizens must take precautionary steps to stay safe,” he said.

After several residents were robbed at gunpoint after arranging car purchases on Craigslist, Racine police issued a warning to both buyers and sellers to conduct their business in public locations, which is also good advice when meeting in person someone from online.

But as Howell pointed out in an email to Racine County Eye, moving online personal relationships into the real world requires a lot more than just meeting in public places.

“When considering the possibility of engaging in ongoing personal relationships initiated online, the level of due diligence required is significantly greater than that which would be required when conducting a casual purchase transaction,” he said. “In both cases, meeting in public (heavy populated locations) would be ideal. In the case of online dating however, additional steps should be taken to get to know prospective partners on a more personal level.”

The chief suggested individuals look a little more deeply into their online acquaintance’s background by utilizing online court records for criminal history, divorce filings, and bankruptcy proceedings. More, Howell says it’s also a good idea to look into that person’s family contacts, employment information and where they live.

Most importantly, until a track record of trust has been established, meetings with prospective partners should take place in public places and never at home.

“Whether connecting online or offline, virtual strangers should never be invited into one’s home,” Howell said.

He suggested the following websites for tips on online dating: