CT bill seeking to make online dating safer advances to Senate | #datingscams | #lovescams

HARTFORD — A bill that seeks to make online dating sites safer and strengthen domestic violence protections is headed to the state Senate.

The Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed legislation that would force online dating sites to verify the identity of users and provide that information if presented with a warrant, subpoena or court order.

The bill also establishes new education and training programs to combat online abuse and establishes “grooming” — befriending minors for the purpose of sexually abusing them — as a separate crime.

Other provisions include a $1.4 million annual grant program for advocates who work with domestic abuse survivors, the extension of workplace protections to all employers regardless of size, mandating training for state workers and making it easier for victims to take time off from work.

“Collectively, the proposals in this bill seek to help victims, both by extending assistance in their time of need and by preventing injustice before it,” said Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven and a sponsor, during testimony about the bill.

“The internet brings out the worst in people,” Martin said. “It provides anonymity, which fosters vulgarity and disparagement without consequences. This great tool that connects us all to extensive more useful information has ironically led people to consume more falsehoods, select their own truths and live in echo chambers.”

The bill comes after the 2018 death of 25 year-old Emily Todd, of Bethel, who was allegedly killed in Bridgeport by a boyfriend she had met online and had recently broken up with.

Although lawmakers moved the legislation onto the Senate, some noted that more work needs to be done to refine the language.

“There is a lot of good in here, but we need to hone some of the definitions,” said state Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, who voted for the bill. “There is some funding in here for domestic violence counselors and good initiatives to combat domestic violence.”

Still, a few lawmakers voted against the bill, including state Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford.

“There are some troubling aspects,” Fishbein noted. “I intend to vote against this bill and show some of the problems with this bill. I agree with some of the policy but I have a lot of problems.”

Fishbein questioned how dating services would verify user identity, prevent users from transferring their accounts to someone else and how the domestic violence initiatives would impact employers.

During a previous public hearing, the bill drew support among domestic violence prevention advocates and others.

“Protecting consumers from becoming victims of fraudulent activity online is important,” said Michelle Seagull, commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection.

“The proponents of this bill reached out to DCP (and) we provided feedback about the current draft and look forward to continuing to work with them moving forward,” Seagull said. “Because the complaints, investigations and enforcement of this proposed legislation would be extensive, DCP would require additional resources in order to implement the bill as currently drafted.”

Michele Voigt, a Greenwich resident and co-founder of the Violent Crime Survivors, praised the bill.

“We support standards for addressing the security of online dating sites,” Voigt told the committee, adding there were 44.2 million user of online dating services in the United States in 2020.

“The Statista Digital Market Outlook estimates the number of users in this segment will increase to 53.3 million by 2025,” Voigt said. “The FBI reports in 2021 victims of romance fraud lost over $1 billion. Similarly, romance scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission rose 80 percent in 2021, with victims losing $547 million.”


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