Hopeful singles complained Great Expectations didn’t meet their expectations
SEATTLE – Matchmakers bank on the notion that money can buy love. But some customers willing to pay thousands of dollars to a business that advertises as “the premier, personal dating service for Seattle singles” say they were sold false promises.
DMZ Group, LLC, is a Bellevue-based licensee of Great Expectations, a dating service with independently owned and operated centers throughout the nation. The Washington Attorney General’s Office has accused the company of making misrepresentations during its sales pitches, including significantly overstating the number of members to choose from and failing to disclose all costs.
The Bellevue company agreed to a settlement that restricts how it markets its services and to provide partial refunds to unsatisfied customers. The documents, filed today in King County Superior Court, do not include an admission or finding of wrongdoing.
“Anyone willing to pay for assistance in finding a soul mate deserves to know exactly what they’re signing up for,” Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “This settlement will help ensure singles receive upfront, accurate information from Great Expectations before they seal the deal.”
McKenna also advised consumers to carefully read any document, including a contract for a dating service, before they sign.
“It’s much easier to enforce a written contract than an oral promise,” McKenna explained.
The Attorney General’s Office has received nearly 60 consumer complaints about Great Expectations since the beginning of 2006, the oldest records still on file. The office’s Consumer Protection Division investigated Great Expectations in the 1990s but didn’t take enforcement action.
Then a May 2009 investigative story on KIRO TV spurred additional consumer complaints to the Attorney General’s Office. The office launched a new investigation into consumers’ allegations that the Bellevue office subjected them to high-pressure pitches during which salespeople convinced them to sign contracts for up to nearly $8,000 without disclosing all the terms.
When the customers tried to dump the dating service, they said they were unable to cancel their contracts.
Under the state’s settlement, negotiated by Assistant Attorney General Jake Bernstein, Great Expectations must:
- Not misrepresent the number of active members, those of a certain age or gender, or those within a particular geographic area.
- Only use photographs, videos or descriptions of individuals who are active and conduct status checks at least once every two months.
- Clearly disclose fees for services such as photographs, events and Internet access that aren’t included in the basic membership, and explain which services are optional.
- Obtain written authorization prior to accessing a prospective member’s credit history.
The business will also pay $37,000 in restitution to eligible Washington consumers, a $5,000 civil penalty and $47,000 in state attorneys’ fees and costs. An additional $30,000 in civil penalties is suspended, provided the company complies with the settlement terms.
The settlement does not apply to other Great Expectations centers.
Consumers may be eligible for restitution if they paid for services from the Great Expectations center in Bellevue, Wash. Under the terms of the settlement, DMZ Group (doing business as Great Expectations) will pay the $37,000 in restitution, to be distributed by the Attorney General’s Office as pro-rated refunds.
Consumers are eligible if they have recently filed complaints about Great Expectations with the Attorney General’s Office or Better Business Bureau and have not already received refunds or settled their disputes. Others who believe they were wronged may file complaints by Sept. 13, 2010, to be considered for restitution.
Consumers may file complaints with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.atg.wa.gov.
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