Are Yahoo and Match.com bolstering their online dating services with fake ads and professional flirts?
Two lawsuits filed in California recently make such bold claims, separately accusing both firms of fraud.
Match.com says the claims are baseless; Yahoo didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
In the Match.com case, Orange County, Calif. resident Matthew Evans accuses the site of having a "very dirty, very big secret."
"Not everyone that you meet on Match.com is just another Match.com member, " the lawsuit says. "They are Match.com employees with a secret, fraudulent mission."
Evans claims Match uses "date bait" - employees who pretend to be regular subscribers that flirt with members. The lawsuit claims online daters are often approached by date bait just as their subscriptions are about to expire. Victims receive "winks" and e-mails designed to trick them into renewing their membership, the suit alleges.
Evans also claims in the lawsuit that Match.com employees are required to go on "as many as 100 dates per month," and they are "stationed in most of the major U.S. cities."
Match.com spokeswoman Kristin Kelly called the lawsuit "completely without merit." The firm doesn't send automated winks, she said, and employees are not required to date members. Match.com has about 250 employees worldwide, and 15 million members, making the date bait claim "ridiculous."
"The allegations in this case have absolutely no basis in fact and are completely without merit," she said.
The complaint was filed Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court in Northern California.
In the Yahoo case, filed on Oct. 14, Robert Anthony of Broward County, Fla., accuses the firm of creating fake profiles to keep members interested. Yahoo, the lawsuit alleges, "deliberately and intentionally originates and perpetuates false and or nonexistent profiles on its site to generate interest ... and give the site a much more attractive and functional appearance in order to falsely represent more substantial participation than actually exists."
The lawsuit supplies few other details, however.
"Due to the complicated nature of the fraud, and the use of technology to pertpetrate the fraud, Anthony is unable to disclose all of the examples of fraud," it says.
Anthony's lawyer, Peter McNulty, didn't respond to phone calls requesting comment.
Both lawsuits seek class-action status.
Mike Arias, Evans' lawyer in the Match.com case, said his client learned about the alleged practices directly from a Match.com employee he dated. Arias said he has no other plaintiffs in the case at the moment, but that he's spoken to other victims and lawyers investigating Match.com practices.
"We've investigated it enough we (to believe the allegations)," he said. "I've talked to enough people who have given me scenarios."
The lawsuit also claims that paid Match.com workers read member e-mails in order to be more seductive to members they contact.
"Match.com typically has their paid employee contact a subscriber immediately before the end of their subscription," it says. "(The employee) goes on a date with a subscriber, (and) gives the deceptive appearance of having a lot in common with the subscriber due in part to having read his or her e-mails."
Match.com's Kelly said employees are allowed to use the service, but are not told to date members.
Evans' lawsuit also claims that a flaw in Match.com technology prevents profiles older than 30 days from appearing in some searches the Web site offers. "Unless a person updates their profile, they fall into a 'black hole' of outdated profiles, never to be seen by any other person on Match again," the suit says.
Online dating is big business; for a time, it was the fastest-growing e-commerce sector. But the industry has always beaten back complaints about fraud and misrepresentation among members. Two years ago, an MSNBC.com investigation revealed a high percentage of ads on several sites were thinly veiled lures to paid porn Web sites. More recently, Nigerian scammers have seized on the services, frequently placing fake ads that lure victims into feigned relationships ultimately designed to trick them into sending large sums of money to criminals outside the U.S.
There have been accusations that dating services benefit from such practices, because if more attractive, young members appear to be using the service, that draws in more paid members.
"That is ridiculous," Kelly said. "We aggressively defend against fraud and proactively pursue it through our fraud and abuse team."
Secret bait claims hit dating website
A TOP internet dating website has been accused of secretly hiring people as "date bait" to go out with some of their one million customers so they would keep paying for the service.
The lonely hearts website Match.com secretly recruited people to send enticing emails to its customers and to go out on dates with them as a way of getting them to keep up their $41 monthly subscription, a Los Angeles racketeering lawsuit said.
The company's ring-ins, branded "date bait", went on up to 100 dates a month -- three per day -- with Match.com customers, who use the site to search for boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses.
"Hiding behind Match.com's portrait of online success is a very big, very dirty secret . . . Not everyone you meet and date through Match.com is just another Match.com member," says the lawsuit.
Kristin Kelly, a spokesperson for Match.com, which has an estimated one million paid subscribers and 15 million members, said the lawsuit was completely without merit and would be vigorously challenged.
The lawsuit was filed by Matthew Evans, a Match.com customer who hopes it will draw support from enough other customers to turn into a much stronger class action suit.
Mr Evans' lawyers said he went on several dates with an attractive woman named Autumn Marzec before she allegedly confessed she was paid by the company to meet him.
Such people are given access to customers' emails to familiarise themselves with the customer, allowing them to feign interest and compatibility, the suit claims.
The worker goes on a date with the subscriber and acts as if they have a lot in common so the subscriber re-signs.
The suit also charges that when a customer's subscription was expiring, Match.com produced fake responses to customers, suggesting another person had an interest in meeting them in order to prod them to resubscribe.
The suit represents growing reports of disappointment among the tens of millions of customers of the online matchmaking industry.
The industry enjoyed an estimated $334 million in turnover during the first half of 2005. - AFP
Leading online matchmaker sued for bogus dating scam
Match.com, one of the top Internet dating websites, has been accused of hiring people as "date bait" to date some of their one million customers to encourage them to keep paying for the service.
A Los Angeles racketeering lawsuit said the lonely hearts website secretly recruited people to send enticing emails to its customers and to go out on dates with them as a way of getting them to keep up their 30 dollars monthly subscription.
The company's ringers, branded "date bait", went on as many as 100 dates a month - three per day - with Match.com customers, who use the site to search for boyfriends, girlfriends, and possible husbands and wives. "Hiding behind Match.com's portrait of online success is a very big, very dirty secret ... Not everyone you meet and date through Match.com is just another Match.com member," said the lawsuit, filed in a Los Angeles court on November 10.
Kristin Kelly, a spokesperson for Match.com - which has an estimated one million paid subscribers and 15 million members — denied the charges, saying the lawsuit is "completely without merit" and would be "vigorously" challenged. The lawsuit was filed by Matthew Evans, a Match.com customer who hopes it will draw support from enough other customers to turn into a much stronger class action suit.
Evan's lawyers said he went on several dates with an attractive woman named Autumn Marzec before she allegedly confessed that she was paid by the company to meet him. Such ringers are given access to customers' emails to familiarize themselves with the customer, allowing them to feign interest and compatibility, the suit claimed. "The paid Match.com employee then goes on a date with the subscriber, gives the deceptive appearance of having a lot in common with the subscriber ... with the intent of luring the subscriber into re-signing with Match.com," the suit alleges.
The suit charges as well that when a customer's subscription was expiring, Match.com produced fake responses to customers, suggesting another person had an interest in meeting them, in order to prod them to resubscribe. The Los Angeles suit represented growing reports of disappointment among the tens of millions of customers of the online matchmaking industry, which is led by Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, and EHarmony.
The industry enjoyed an estimated 245 million dollars in turnover during the first half of 2005. While the industry advertises its success stories - customers who meet online and eventually get married - some disappointments have raised questions of industry practices. Earlier this year Californian James Hunt complained that for the nearly 3,000 dollars he paid to matchmaker Together Inc., he didn't receive the guaranteed nine introductions of "nearly compatible" women. The company disputed his claim.
In New York, the Great Expectations dating service was recently ordered by a judge to refund money to two women who said they never got any dates after paying up to $1,000 for a six month subscription. "I just wanted to go out for coffee and have nice conversations with a couple of people. Instead, I got not a single introduction," said a disappointed 43 year old who identified herself only as Jennifer. "I think I’ll stick to meeting people at bus stops and the elevator," she said.
Better to have loved and lost, even on the internet
A quick look at any online dating site will tell you that everyone is lying
The online dating world has been rocked by claims in Los Angeles that dating companies have been paying women to go on sham dates with male subscribers to make the men think the site is generating results and thus renew their membership fees.
A man in his thirties who signed up to www.match.com, a web dating service that claims 12 per cent of American weddings began with an online introduction has launched a lawsuit accusing the company offraud. He claims to be the victim of a scam he discovered after a "buxom, dark-haired, younger woman" that he had taken on several dates confessed to having been paid to make contact with up to 100 members a month.
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