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Suit Says Dating Service Is Running a Con Game

An online firm is accused of using bogus love letters to entice men to pay a monthly fee.

November 28, 2002|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

"Wouldn't it be great if you could just punch in all the qualities you wanted in a girlfriend?" asks the computer dating Web site Ineedanewgirlfriend.com. "Now you can!"

But a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court accuses the service of defrauding users -- not to mention breaking their hearts.

Consumer attorney Neil B. Fineman contends that the dating service e-mailed bogus love notes to lonely bachelors to get them to pony up the $25-a-month membership fee. Though men can post personal profiles on the Web site for free -- listing their age, occupation, likes and dislikes -- they must pay to reply to messages from prospective dates.

The lawsuit says that bogus e-mails with photos of beautiful women were sent to men asking them for a reply or for a date. Once the men paid their membership fees and e-mailed the women, they never heard back, it says. The plaintiff in the suit, a 35-year-old paralegal, says he was suckered into paying the membership fee after he received a steady stream of e-mails with photos of attractive women. He wants a refund.

Representatives of the Web site did not return e-mails or phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

To prove his client's contention, Fineman says, he concocted a handful of cyber straw men -- false profiles of men he believed no woman would want to be involved with. They were the Internet's most ineligible bachelors, he said: hard-drinking, overweight, out-of-work men. Their goal, he stated in their profiles, was to meet rich, beautiful women who would support them.

The offers came rolling in.

"You sound HOT!" stated one reply, which included a photo of an attractive woman in a bikini. "I have a never-ending amount of money that my parents left me and would like to spend it on you. We can vacation year-round and stay drunk the whole time. Please say you will meet me."

Fineman said "women" who responded to his bogus profiles had varying backgrounds. "One claimed to have strong Christian values and was looking for a man to go on long walks on the beach," the lawyer said. "Another woman worked for a company selling adult toys and was interested in 'experimenting.' "

In some cases, the plaintiff's made-up profiles generated identical replies, although the names and photos were different, the lawyer said.

"There's no way these beautiful women could have actually been interested in the jerks we made up," Fineman said.

Fineman's client is identified in court papers only as E.A.B.; he did not use his full name, he said in an interview, because he's embarrassed about his predicament. He will be required by the court to identify himself once the case goes to depositions -- if it is not settled before then.

"They're taking advantage of a very vulnerable class of people," the man said. "A lot of us aren't doing very well in the dating scene. What they're doing is putting a hook in front of your face with a worm on it, but it's not a worm, it's a pretty girl."

The Web site bills itself as a tool for men to meet women with similar interests. "Avoid the bar scene! Or the endless blind date fix-ups from 'concerned' friends and relatives!" the site proclaims. "How long can you leave everything to chance?"

The plaintiff said he was surprised -- and a little suspicious -- at the number of e-mails he received from women when he posted his profile. With other computer dating services, he said, he has only occasionally received unsolicited e-mails from women. And messages from women with model-like features are even rarer.

After getting e-mails from three women, he decided to pay for a membership, he said, but the nascent romances fizzled immediately when nobody messaged him back.

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