Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Internet

November 21, 2005

Striking a Match

Match.com is being sued for allegedly sending subscribers out on fake dates with employees. Is the company villian or victim?

David Goldenberg

It's a nightmare scenario for everyone looking for love: The expensive online dating service that promised to match you up with compatible singles instead manipulates your emotions to keep you on as a paying customer. So depraved is the company, in this scenario, that it hires escorts to take you out on fake dates when you're thinking about dropping the service. So heartless is the business that it reads your intimate emails to potential dates and concocts fictitious characters to flirt with you—mining your own most private words to determine how to say exactly the right things to keep you interested.

If a newly filed complaint is accurate, Match.com is doing just that. If the complaint is incorrect, the parties behind it have unfairly sullied the reputation of the largest online-dating service in the world, by number of subscribers, and have done serious harm to a market that relies on the trust of its members in matters of love.

Not long ago, Match.com linked Matthew Evans to a woman who went by Autumn Marzec. The two went out on a least one date. That much isn't in dispute.

According to Evans's lawyers, while on the date Marzec told Evans that she was working with Match.com to retain members by inviting them on dates to give them positive feelings about the site's success in matchmaking. Based on Marzec's alleged statement, the law firm of Arias, Ozzello & Gignac LLP, which represents Evans, has filed a class-action complaint against Match.com alleging racketeering, fraud, and invasion of privacy, and is asking subscribers and former Match.com subscribers to submit grievances about the company and join the suit. (See the complaint [PDF].) Mike Arias, Evans's lawyer on the case, says he has received so many complaints about Match.com since the suit was filed and publicized by Reuters and newspapers around the world, that he is reworking the original complaint to include these additional complaints, and will file a new complaint in the next few days. "I've gotten several emails from people all over the country," he tells Gelf. "And it's amazingly consistent." (The lawsuit calls the practice of fake-dating "date-baiting"; Arias tells Gelf it's a "term of art," but he has "no idea" if Match.com itself uses the expression.)

Arias won't comment on the specifics on the allegations, nor will he talk specifically about Evans's allegations beyond telling Gelf that his client's last conversation with Marzec was several weeks ago and that she has refused to talk to Arias and Evans's other lawyers. "According to our client's testimony and documentation, she held herself out to be employed by Match.com," says Arias. "How did she get some of that information? We'll find out in the deposition." (Arias is pinning much of the details on the deposition-and-discovery phase of the anticipated trial; he tells Gelf, "The best part is that this is all done electronically [i.e. Match records all its practices electronically]. Through the discovery, it will all be there electronically.") Arias also tells Gelf that he expects to have Evans and other plaintiffs talk to the press in the next few days.

Marzec, though, has signed an affidavit denying these claims. In her sworn statement, Marzec states that she has never worked for Match.com in any capacity and has never communicated with the company about any dates she has been on. (See the affidavit[Word Document], as provided by Match.com.) Efforts by Gelf to reach Marzec were unsuccessful. (A Yahoo profile that is linked by this 2004 message-board post to the name "Autumn Marzec" depicts a young, good-looking Los Angeles-resident who describes herself as a dance instructor. It's not clear if the owner of that Yahoo profile is the same woman tied to the Match.com lawsuit; emails and IMs from Gelf to the Yahoo profile owner haven't been returned. If we receive responses after publication, we'll let you know here.)

Match released a statement Monday claiming that the lawsuit is "factually baseless" and "based entirely on fictional accusations." Kristin Kelly, a spokesman for the company, tells Gelf that all of Match.com's practices are aboveboard, and says that the company has filed a request to have the suit dismissed. "We don't manufacture winks or send [fake] emails to members," she tells Gelf. "That's not what we do. If someone's subscription is about to lapse, we ask them to think about renewing it. We do not say 'hey sexy' 24 hours before their subscription expires."

Furthermore, Kelly argues that because Match has a staff of only 250 people and uses absolutely no outside contractors, it's not feasible for the company to send personalized emails and to send employees out on dates with those subscribers thinking of dropping out.

Match also has taken the tack of denying the charges by saying, basically, Would we do this? The New York Daily News reported Monday that Kelly told the paper "membership is up 19% over last year, showing the company doesn't need to resort to tricks." Kelly tells Gelf, "A site like Match.com relies on the community of members. It is our product. ... Not only is it unethical, it doesn't make business sense. We've been in business 10-plus years. We're a thriving company. This is not what a successful company would do."

Another objection lodged by Match.com about the complaint: The filed paper states, "Match.com has employed people whose primary responsibility is to go on dates with subscribers. These employees are required to go on as many as one hundred (100) dates per month. These employees are stationed in most of the major United States' cities including within Los Angeles County." The image of employees trying to squeeze in dates during breakfast to make their three-plus-per-day quota does sound ludicrous, and Arias admits as much. Instead, he claims that he erred in the wording. Instead, he says, it was supposed to read that Marzec had gone on as many as 100 dates while working with Match.com. In the new complaint, he will change the language to reflect that. Would Evans consider settling? "We're not even thinking about settling," Arias says.

"Growth in internet dating has leveled off," says Arias, adding that paying members are like gold for the dating sites. "You're going to prepare a retention plan." When asked by Gelf if his refiling constitutes a fishing expedition, Arias says, "These people are handing me the fish. I don't need bait."

—Carl Bialik contributed to this article.

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.







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Comments

- Internet
- posted on Apr 27, 08
janet stephen

Match.com is a major parasite!!!! Thank God i realized only after a couple of weeks their con-artistry. shame on Match.Com for insulting the intelligence of so many people by thinking they will get away with defrauding subscribers. Go and get them lawyers!!!!!


Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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