You might be surprised to learn that I have a part-time (nonpaying) job as a private detective.
And it’s really a shame that it’s nonpaying, because I’m pretty good at it.
It all started several years ago when my girlfriend Jennifer started dating online, because really, is there any other way to date anymore? Just ask another one of my girlfriends, who happily walked down the aisle two weeks ago to marry the love of her life — whom she met online at Plenty of Fish. I have plenty more newly married friends who’ve met on Match, Our Time, Bumble and others.
But, back in the early 2000s, online dating was still pretty new and Jennifer was wading around in an unfamiliar pool when she met a guy online from Tampa. She wasn’t bothered by the 125- mile distance because he sounded so great. A successful attorney, he was divorced with a 7-year-old daughter and had just bought his dream home, a big house with five bedrooms. He started off messaging Jennifer and as the flirtation grew, they graduated to phone calls — long, late-night phone calls — the kind where no one wants to be the last to say goodbye.
Things heated up and a couple of weeks later she agreed to meet him in person halfway, in Sarasota, for lunch. The more questions I asked her about the guy, however, the less she seemed to know about him. And she admitted that her intuition was telling her something — she just didn’t know what.
So, she gave me his first and last names and I went to work. When I visited the Hillsborough County property appraiser’s website, I learned that the dude did not own a home, but he did own a small piece of land. When I Google- Earthed the address, it turned out to be a mobile home (not that there’s anything wrong with living in a mobile home, but what happened to the big house he bragged about?).
Then I couldn’t find any info to prove he was an attorney.
But the worst news came when I checked out the clerk of courts website — where I found his marriage license but no record of divorce.
When Jennifer called to confront him, he admitted that he and his wife were newly separated. He said he was living in his uncle’s trailer, and he hoped to go back to school someday to be a lawyer and be able to buy his dream house. Needless to say, the lunch date was cancelled.
Jennifer dodged a bullet, and since then, I’ve had dozens of girlfriends, and even mere acquaintances, request my investigation skills. One friend who dates online a LOT has been known to text me with several names of potential boyfriends and two simple words: “Please stalk.”
It was before Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram back when Jennifer almost dated a married man who lived with his uncle, so it took me a whole afternoon to get the skinny on Mr. Tampa. These days, such sleuthing is a piece of cake. You just need a last name.
Yet you’d be surprised how many women are hesitant to ask. One friend actually asked me, “All I know is that his name is Dave and he lives in Naples. What can you find out about him?” She told me she was afraid that if she asked his last name, he would assume she was going to Google him.
The truth is, everybody Googles everyone nowadays. And, by the way, Google isn’t enough. When I put on my detective hat, the first thing I check is the sheriff’s website to see if a potential soul mate has been arrested. We all make mistakes, but if he was arrested for violence or something equally as scary, you’ll want to know. Then I click on over to the clerk of courts site for info on marriages, divorces, lawsuits, restraining orders and more. And the property appraiser’s site can tell us if his home is registered in his name only — or if there’s a wife on the deed. All of this takes less than 20 minutes.
Recently, a friend called me with the good news that she had found “the one” — and could I just make sure he wasn’t married or a felon. I checked him out and gave her the all clear. She was thrilled — and because she’s a liberal Democrat, she was excited that they shared the same political views. “Then why is he a registered Republican, and why is he wearing a Donald Trump shirt in one of his Instagram photos?” I wanted to know.
Unfortunately, detectives sometimes have to break a heart.