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Stories of online dating gone wrong and how to stay safe

Updated on June 5, 2018
kymp profile image

Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.

"It has been ten years since the New York Times declared it socially acceptable to meet your date on the Internet," wrote Ann Friedman in a 2013 article titled "Perils of Online Dating." According to Friedman, one-third of America’s 90 million singles have used online dating services. While some find love, get married, and live happily ever after, some have met with tragedy.

Robyn Gardner mysteriously disappears while vacationing with man she met online

Robyn Gardner has been missing since August 2, 2011 while vacationing in Aruba.
Robyn Gardner has been missing since August 2, 2011 while vacationing in Aruba. | Source

Maryland resident, Robyn Gardner remains missing after meeting Gary Giordano, 50, online. Robyn, 35, had met Giordano on an online dating site, developing a friendship prior to her disappearance on August 2, 2011, while vacationing in Aruba.

Robyn had considered Giordano a friend and even her close friends knew of Giordano as an acquaintance. Robyn accepted an invitation to travel to Aruba with Giordano where she mysteriously vanished while staying at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino in Oranjestad. Her family continues to desperately search for answers.

Baby Beach, Aruba
Baby Beach, Aruba | Source

When Giordano reported Robyn missing, he told authorities he had been snorkeling with Robyn off Baby Beach on August 2. He explained he tapped on Robyn's leg when he noticed the tide begin to pull them out to sea and proceeded to return to shore. Once on land, Giordano indicated he noticed Robyn was gone.

Weather reports indicate the waters off Baby Beach on the southeast end of the island of Aruba, to be mild the day of Robyn's disappearance.

When questioned by authorities, Giordano's answers failed to add up and his lack of concern apparent when authorities arrested Giordano. While the search was ongoing, Giordano attempted to return to the U.S. Police arrested at the airport.

Suspect in the disappearance of Robyn Gardner arrested by Annapolis (MD) Police for  indecent exposure.
Suspect in the disappearance of Robyn Gardner arrested by Annapolis (MD) Police for indecent exposure. | Source

Robyn's friends and family all agree that Robyn would never go snorkeling. Robyn's younger brother Andrew Colson told the Daily Mail, "She just wouldn't want to ruin her makeup or get her hair wet."

Two days after Robyn's disappearance, Giordano contacted American Express (AMEX) regarding a $1.5 million life insurance claim. Giordano had taken out an insurance policy with American Express Travel Insurance that would pay upon the "accidental death" of Robyn.

AMEX informed Giordano the policy was only in effect during the time they were in Aruba and there had not been a determination as authorities were still in the early stages of search efforts for a missing person.

In June 2012, Giordano filed a suit in the Cook County Circuit Court against Chicago based AMEX Assurance for $3.5 million due for failure to pay on Robyn's life insurance claim. Robyn remains missing.

Looming Questions

  • Why did Giordano tell Robyn's mother he would stay and assist with the search, then brusquely try to leave?
  • Why did Robyn post a portentous message, "This sucks," on her Facebook wall at 2 a.m. the day she vanished?
  • Why did Giordano fail to show any worry or emotion in the days following Robyn's disappearance?
  • Why did Robyn's Gmail account indicate she had been online for two days following her disappearance?
  • Why did Giordano contact AMEX on August 4th, only two days after Robyn's disappearance and ask if the policy also covered search costs?

Witnesses that were approached by Giordano on the beach following Robyn's alleged snorkeling accident report the following:

  • One witness reported Giordano had a cut on his throat similar to an injury one would sustain after being scratched by a fingernail.
  • Another witness reports she saw blood on the beach.
  • Yet another witness reported she noticed Giordano was sweating when he told her his girlfriend was lost while snorkeling but the witness said his shorts were not wet.

Robyn's disappearance remains a mystery and many questions raising suspicion of Giordano's connection, remain unanswered. However, speculation points to Robyn Gardner as one of many people who has fallen victim to an online predator.

Tragedy hits home in Central Michigan - Murder of Leigh Swanson

On November 28, 2012, Midland County Sheriff announced Steven Fabo shot and killed himself as deputies approached his home to question him about the disappearance of Leigh Swanson.

Swanson, 45, had met a man on an online dating site according to her mother, Beverly Kane. Kane said her daughter had expressed that she had a "bad feeling" prior to going on the date.

Leigh Swanson murdered during meeting with man she met online.
Leigh Swanson murdered during meeting with man she met online. | Source

On November 16, Leigh is picked up for a date with a man she had become acquainted with online. On November 18, 2012, Swanson called her mother from the man’s home indicating everything was fine and she would be home soon. She never arrived.

At the time her family did not know the name of the individual who picked Leigh up for the date and when she did not arrive home they made a missing person report. Authorities traced the number to a home in Edenville Township, MI.

When deputies approached the front door of Fabo's residence, they heard a gunshot from inside. Ordering anyone inside to come out with their hands over their heads, a man exited the home holding a cell phone in his hand. The man had been on the phone with 911 reporting his son had just shot himself inside. Police later found Swanson’s body in a wooded area on a neighboring property.

Leigh's death is a grim reminder of what can happen when meeting a predator online.

Tips to Protect Yourself

  • Always meet in a public place. Never invite the individual to pick you up from your home or accept an invitation to theirs.
  • Use the online dating site email system to communicate. Remember, the more information you give out the easier you are to find. Even providing a private email address gives someone enough information to find out who you are and where you live.
  • If you decide to meet personally, attempt to obtain as much verifiable information about the person prior to the meeting, such as name and phone number.
  • Make sure you let someone close to you know who you are meeting, where you are meeting, and as much information about the person as possible. You can even have your friend call you during the date. This gives your friends and family peace of mind but also sends a clear message to the individual you are with that others know where you are.
  • Do your homework. It is not unreasonable to conduct a background investigation on a potential mate and could lessen the danger to yourself and those you love.
  • No matter how comfortable you feel with the person, never leave your food or drink unattended.

While I am not discouraging anyone from online dating, I have worked in missing persons and homicide cases for over twenty-years and encourage everyone to take every precaution necessary to protect yourself. We must not permit these tragedies or the lives of the victims to be in vain.

Please weigh in on our Safety Awareness Poll

After reading this, would you take more precautions during online dating?

See results

© 2014 Kym L Pasqualini


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    • kymp profile imageAUTHOR

      Kym L Pasqualini 

      5 years ago from Carefree, AZ

      JKenney, I so agree. When meeting someone in-person, at least we give our "intuition" a chance to scream. Thank you so much for reading!

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hmmm definite food for thought. I've recently taken myself of OkCupid and POF, due to a bad dating experience. True, offline dating carries its dangers too, but at least you don't waste time messaging back and forth for ages. And by looking people in the eye you can avoid the crazies more effectively.


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