Of the five sites — AmericanSingles, eHarmony, Match.com, True and Yahoo Personals — only True states that it checks the background of applicants at registration, screening information against a criminal database and public marriage records.
With each site, you start by answering questions about yourself and your potential mate, checking boxes to indicate a wide range of preferences. Each site also adds a space where you can describe yourself and the person you seek.
Three sites — eHarmony, True and Yahoo Personals — offer a compatibility test, which they use to try to pair members based on far more than likes and dislikes. The computer-processed tests are optional at True and Yahoo Personals and required at eHarmony. At eHarmony, you can be deemed unmatchable, and rejected.
You can peek into each of the five sites before opening your wallet. All of them offer advice — what to post in a profile, tips about online-dating safety — that is free to anyone. Basic one-month subscription fees range from $25 (Yahoo Personals) to $60 (eHarmony).
As for privacy, the site's policies varied. Although a spokeswoman for AmericanSingles told us the company ''does not sell its members' personally identifiable information,'' neither does the site promise that that information ''will always remain private.'' Match.com states that it may share your personal information with other companies whose names are displayed on the site, who in turn may use it ''in accordance with their own privacy policies.'' For its part, True has been certified for privacy and security protection by more than one independent group. All the sites, meanwhile, let you block e-mail from certain members or report bad behavior.
All the sites, too, renew your subscription automatically unless you cancel directly. Most, however, won't grant a refund if you bow out early. What's more, your profile could remain active and viewable on these sites until you notify customer service to remove it permanently.
Which site best meets your needs? That depends on what you want out of the relationship:
- If you favor matches close to handpicked, eHarmony is a good bet. (Although NET has heard that eHarmony is being investigated for fraud.)
- If you just want the basics, try Match.com (The one promoted and approved by Dr. Phil) or Yahoo Personals, which have a simple, well-organized setup.