Sam Houston State student Jerod met Nicky in 1999. They met at time when Nicky had just broken up with someone and was not looking for a relationship. They became friends and eventually that friendship blossomed into a romantic relationship. Jerod and Nicky are engaged to be married in 2003.This sounds like a perfect, traditional romance. There is one major difference. Jerod and Nicky did not meet at church, a bar or even at school. They met in a chat room. A recent study reported by ABC showed that nearly 6 million people are tapping into the Internet to find that someone special. The business of Internet dating and Internet romance has blossomed into a huge market. Six million people logged on looking for love this past year, which is only a small fraction of the estimated 75 million singles in America. This gives the industry an amazing chance to grow.A simple search on the Internet brings up thousands of different websites all promoting Internet love, chat groups and online personal ads. Some sites such as personals.yahoo.com and http://www.excite.com offer extensive free personal ad programs. Other sites such as matchmaker.com have subscribed systems, which can cost members upwards of $200 a year. Because online romance is in high demand, these sites are competing against each other and all offer different benefits to try to lure the lonely into their lairs. While the trend is hot right now, it is still a highly debated topic. People against Internet dating feel that it is unsafe and wrong. Yet, the numbers of people that are turning to the new wave of matchmaking are funding the success of the business.The Internet is making interaction much faster, Karen DeMars, of eCRUSH, said. People are getting to know each other much more quickly and on a much more intimate level.These new levels of intimacy can bring problems.The first problem with Internet dating is an increased level of risk in sexual relations. According to an article on abcnews.com, Melissa Schorr reports that those who seek sexual partners online are at a higher risk of contacting a sexually transmitted disease, including HIV, than those who seek partners in more traditional ways. A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February found people who find sexual partners online are having more sex partners, more risky sex and a have more history of sexually transmitted disease. The study does warn that the population looked at in the study was a lot different from people just looking for romance in chatrooms. Instead, the study tested 856 people who showed up at Denver clinic to be tested for STDs. Of that group, 85 percent were not involved in online dating and the other 15 percent were. The study showed that of the online group, 59 percent had had more than seven sexual partners in the past year, compared with only 18.5 percent of the offline group. In addition, 33 percent of the online group had a history of sexual transmitted diseases, while only 20 percent of the offline group did. Besides the sex issues, other dangers of online dating include people switching identities and being naive enough to fall for traps. An article on http://www.about.com links the dangers to the Internet to a monster named Charming. It goes on to explain that Charming is the person you most need at any given time. It is the beautiful and blonde who loves to cook and clean, or the sensitive and macho, Brad Pitt look alike who adores you. While to many these people do not sound possible, people in desperate situations will fall for anything.The article states that marriages are abandoned, good relationships are destroyed and poor decisions are made, all due to the illusion that charming truly exists.Despite the downfalls, many people are finding love on the Internet and it is working. SHSU students Eric Fasano and Tara Anderson met online in September of 1998 and dated online until Tara moved to Texas from Canada to attend Sam several years later. The couple is in love and plans to marry after college.Both Fasano and Anderson are aware of the dangers but believe that it can work. Ask questions that are personal before you ever plan to meet him, Anderson said. I talked to Erics family and friends before we ever met. It helped me to really get to know what kind of person he was.Andersons advice is concrete. While Internet dating has become a huge business, these companies are still aware of the importance of safety. Most the personal sites on the market today, list safety tips on online chatting and face-to-face meetings. These same websites often have built in protection mechanisms to protect real identities from becoming public.The issues surrounding Internet dating are huge and relevant. Yet, one thing is for sure. Internet dating is here to stay. Next week, you will meet Fasano and Anderson introduced above and hear their story. You will also read about another SHSU student Liz Keels and her journey on the net to find Chris, her beau of three years. The following week, you will hear Mike Kaatzs story of surprise stalkers and horrible blind dates.