At least one woman says the least likely place to meet a mate is a matchmaking service that charges as much as $10,000 to join.
Let's call her Scarlet, which is not her real name but matches the color of her face soon after paying $6,995, plus tax, to eLove of Glastonbury in late 2011 for 33 referrals and a "priority matching" VIP plan.
When east-of-the-river Scarlet, 70, contacted The Bottom Line last fall, she had not received a referral in almost a year despite having been promised one every six weeks when she signed up. She wanted a refund.
"I was foolish not to have backed out within the first few days," she says, "but the person I met with did a great selling job and I was gullible."
Scarlet, in fact, could have backed out because, under state law, a dating-service contract must include a three-day right-to-cancel notice. Once those three days passed, Scarlet was bound to an almost-impenetrable contract.
The clause that deflated her hopes for a refund: "You agree that on the date that we send you your first referral irrespective of whether you act or not on this referral, you will be liable for the entire membership fee and will not be entitled to any refund or any proration of any kind."
Scarlet says she received six referrals, or more than $1,000 per referral. She met a few of them, even seeing two men more than once. She also declined to meet one of the referrals, she says, "because I didn't care for the way he sounded over the phone." The last referral she spoke to, she says, told her he wasn't even a paid eLove member.
Scarlet joined eLove after responding to an online ad, even though she knew nothing about the company.
"I'm not wealthy," she says, "but have been discouraged about not meeting appropriate men and thought eLove sounded good. . . . Had I done research ahead of time, I would have seen several negative remarks about them on the Internet. Before buying an appliance, I always research it. Unfortunately, the interviewer was very persuasive and I wasn't using my normal common sense."
If she consulted the Better Business Bureau now, she would find an F rating and 143 complaints against the company that has headquarters in Norwell, Mass. An Internet search now reveals dozens more complaints, including a Boston television news report about a woman who says she paid eLove $6,000 for one "connection" — a phone call.
The Connecticut attorney general's office has received eight complaints about eLove since 2011.
"All of the complaints involve consumers who were not satisfied with the service and want to cancel the contract," says Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.
Elove was LoveAccess until it was acquired several years ago by International Dating Ventures. The company's chief executive officer, Paul Falzone, also has been involved with The Right One, Together Dating and other dating services. After the LoveAccess purchase, Falzone told an interviewer "the reason we bought the online company was to show the online world that we can convert online leads at a large price point."
Bernice Schaefer, 75, a licensed psychologist, sued eLove earlier this year in Hartford Superior Court after paying the company's Glastonbury office $9,566 last year for 16 introductions. After meeting only three men, including one she says arrived drunk, she requested a refund. When eLove refused, Schaefer sought the refund, damages and punitive damages for breach of contract. Her lawyer, Tamara Kagan Levine of Farmington, also claimed the company breached its contract and violated the Connecticut Unfair Practices Act.
"We are in the process of trying to settle it," says Levine.
Scarlet also consulted a lawyer but did not want to challenge eLove publicly.
"Aside from my lawyer and you," she told TBL, "nobody else knows about my joining eLove. I guess I'm embarrassed about having done something impulsive when so much money was involved."
Fortunately, after TBL contacted eLove, Scarlet didn't need a lawyer. Terry Fitzpatrick, the chief operating officer of International Dating Services who identified the Norwell operation by yet another name, Quality Singles, first offered Scarlet matchmaking services at an affiliate in Florida, where she spends her winters. When that proved unappealing, Scarlet and her local eLove/Quality Singles/International Dating Services matchmaker, started negotiating a refund.
"They're going to finalize everything early next week," said Fitzpatrick at the time.
That was early October. In late January, Scarlet signed a settlement agreement that included a nondisclosure. The fear of a lawsuit prevented her from discussing the details with TBL, but Scarlet remains an eligible single interested in meeting potential mates.
"I don't want to brag," she says, "but I'm an attractive, educated woman and it appears [eLove] doesn't have enough people in my area who fulfill my wish list, which I believe is reasonable."
Before You Pay A Dating Service
>> Understand the terms, conditions and exclusions before signing a contract.
>> Some services offer introductory discounts that lead to increased fees.
>> Beware of automataic renewals that require the consumer to contact the service to cancel.
>> Some services will use your picture for marketing.
>> Problems with a dating service? Contact the state attorney general's Consumer Assistance Unit: complete a complaint form at http://www.ct.gov/ag, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-808-5420.