West Australians trying to find love online are hiring private investigators to run background checks and even follow potential suitors met on dating websites to see if they are being honest.

People who suspect a supposedly single suitor may have a family or fear a romance scam, such as that which fleeced $300,000 from a Perth victim last year, are turning to private detectives.

Most clients are single women or family members concerned about their child or sibling's online relationship.

Duncan Gilbert, director at Perth detective agency Meridian Services, said the growing popularity of dating websites had driven an increase in demand for such services in the past five years.

"Some people say, 'I've been out with him a couple of times but something doesn't quite gel - if I meet up with him for a coffee, can you follow him and see what he gets up to, where he goes and who he speaks to'," he said.

Mr Gilbert said one woman hired the agency to investigate a suitor and discovered he was a serial offender with a wife and family.

"It wasn't just one woman. He was not a very nice person at all," he said.

Demand is such that private investigator Julia Robson's business is devoted solely to online work.

"I was working in a private investigations company and I just found there was this trend," she said.

"We were getting a lot more inquiries from people who had met their partner online.

"Unfortunately, because there has been this explosion of online dating, there are those who have decided to take advantage of that.

"A lot of those who contact us are having a long-distance relationship so they want confirmation about someone they haven't met yet, or have met but, because of the distance, find it hard to verify they are who they say they are.

"We also get family members who are concerned that the relationship is moving too fast.

"Perhaps they've moved into a property with this person."

One Perth woman, who asked to be known only as Natalie, hired an investigator because of suspicions about a man she met online.

She had returned to dating after a recent marriage breakdown and was cautious and nervous about it.

"But I did go out on a few dates and have some fun and it wasn't as scary as I'd thought," Natalie said.

"There was one particular guy I did like but there were just a few things that weren't sitting comfortably with me.

"It wasn't anything drastic or dramatic - I just wanted to safeguard myself from further hurt before I got involved.

"There were things he said like, 'Oh, I've sold my place and I'm staying at my mate's house', and that's why we never went to his place.

"And I was thinking, well, I understand that can happen … but, so what if you're living at your mate's? It doesn't mean I can't meet you there or pick you up from there.

"My gut was telling me to find out a bit more before I got more involved. Then I was talking to a friend and she suggested getting some surveillance done."

It showed the man was still in a relationship he said was over.

"It kind of confirmed what my intuition was telling me," she said, though the experience did not put her off online dating.

'My gut was telling me to find out a bit more before I got more involved.' "Online dater *Natalie *

The West Australian

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