MANHATTAN (CN) - Match.com is "one of the biggest conspiracies ever executed on the Internet," using thousands of photos of people who have nothing to do with the dating service in fake "profiles" to lure customers, a class action claims in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff Yuliana Avalos sued IAC/InterActiveCorp and its subsidiaries Match.com and People Media.
Manhattan-based IAC operates a string of online dating websites, including Match.com, Singlesnet.com and OKCupid.com, and has 128 subsidiaries. IAC and its subsidiaries make about $350 million a year from their online dating websites, according to the lawsuit.
"Defendants' illegal business practices center around the knowing and intentional unauthorized use of plaintiff's photographs in hundreds if not thousands of fraudulent profiles posted on several of the 25 dating sites owned and operated by the defendants over the past six years, and the use of thousands if not millions of photographs of class members in fraudulent profiles on most if not all of defendants' sites during the same period," the complaint states.
"While defendants masquerade as the premier dating site network in the United States, the reality is that a high percentage of profiles posted on defendants' dating sites are fraudulent profiles created by criminals (aka 'scammers') in international locations for criminal purposes that use the photographs of plaintiff and other non-members of defendants' sites.
"Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspire with criminals operating from locations including Internet cafes in Nigeria, Ghana, and Russia, who manually and through the use of software and other computer devices, submit a high percentage of profiles on defendants' web sites incorporating photographs of plaintiff and members of the class.
"Defendants are aware of this as their computer servers in New York, Texas, and other locations in the United States receive and approve fraudulent profiles by the thousands that 'ping' from international IP addresses, which are the computer equivalent of area codes.
"Furthermore, defendants specifically approve, edit content, and post every profile, making these fake profiles created abroad available to consumers in the United States.
"Plaintiff's investigation has revealed that defendants, their subsidiaries, joint venturers, and/or subcontractors, also create fake profiles on defendants' sites."
Avalos, a model from Florida, seeks to represent thousands of people, including models, Hollywood celebrities and military servicemen and -women, whose photos have been used to promote fake profiles on Match.com and associated dating websites since November 2007.
She claims the fake profiles, which have reached millions of subscribers and potential subscribers, have also used photos pirated from Facebook.
"Unknown thousands or millions of defendants' members subscribe to defendants' websites in the hope of meeting plaintiff and members of the class, who are not and never were members of defendants' websites," the complaint states.
"The tragedy of this case is twofold, as the American victims of Internet fraud on defendants' sites, (estimated to be at least thousands), mostly widows, widowers, and divorcees age 50 and over, have been defrauded out of as much as hundreds of millions of dollars over the past six-plus years through fraudulent dating profiles on defendants' sites, and those of its competitors.
"In addition to the financial and emotional toll, these scams destroy relationships, families, and result in suicides, abductions and murder of victims in foreign countries." (Parentheses in complaint).
Avalos claims that Match.com et al. refuse to screen unauthorized photos from their sites or address complaints about fraudulent profiles that use the class members' photos.
She adds: "Defendants could easily and inexpensively stop these illegal practices through the implementation of photograph recognition software which can scan billions of images nearly instantaneously to maintain the integrity of defendants' websites, through IP address screening of international IP addresses, and through manual and software screening of profiles that have 'red flags,' but defendants refuse to do so as these fake profiles are a large part of what makes defendants' match segment such a commercial success."
Avalos claims that unlike consumers who already have sued Match.com et al, she and other class members never signed an agreement with the defendants. She claims that IAC's other sites make money from cross-promotion through IAC's "match segment," based on a large percentage of fraudulent profiles that use the class members' photos and likeness.
Avalos seeks class certification, an injunction, $500 million in compensatory damages and $1 billion in punitive damages for Lanham Act and RICO violations, fraud, copyright infringement, negligence, unjust enrichment, and state law violations.
She is represented by Evan Spencer.
The complaint includes 35 pages of exhibits of allegedly fake profiles that use photos of class members.
A Match.com spokesman said in a statement: "The real scam here is this meritless lawsuit, which is filled with outlandish conspiracy theories and clumsy fabrications in lieu of factual or legal basis. We're confident that our legal system is as adept as we are at detecting scammers and will dismiss this case in short order."
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