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Texas Tries to Stop Aggressive Dating Service

SAN ANTONIO (CN) - Using multiple names, a particularly nasty dating service took thousands of dollars from Texans and threatens them with "financial ruin and criminal prosecution" if they complain, the Texas attorney general claims in court.

Texas sued Lone Star Introductions dba eLove Matchmaking dba International Dating Ventures dba International Introductions, on Nov. 24 in Bexar County Court.

The company's principal place of business is in Norwell, Mass., and its registered agent is James J. McNulty, in Boston, according to the complaint.

All the allegations in this article are taken from the attorney general's lawsuit. In Texas, the company also operates under the names Together Dating, The Right One, Love Access, and Cupid's Coach.

Texas warned Lone Star two years ago that it was investigating it.

The attorney general says the company uses "lead generating" companies to mine online dating services for customer contacts, then uses the information to make cold calls in Texas, without registering as a telemarketer.

Many online dating services across the country have been sued for making up customers, primarily women, to lure men into signing up. But Texas' lawsuit accuses Lone Star of simply going for the money - ruthlessly.

Once they get a phone number, the attorney general says, they "use high pressure and coercive tactics" to try to get targets to sign up, including "incessant phone calls," coercion and manipulation. "Defendants charge consumers between $7,995 and $12,995 for prospective dating introductions," the state says.

Lone Star calls its telemarketers "counselors."

"During interviews," the state says, "'counselors' also misrepresent that defendants need sensitive financial information from consumers, including their financial status and credit card allowances, to better 'match' them to prospective dates, when in reality the information is used to adjust the final price to consumers' ability to pay."

Lone Star promises, falsely, that it can put a "hold" on an interesting date, to prevent other customers from romancing her, or him. It fails to disclose the whole contract to its customers, nor does it inform them when it leaves town, or the state. It claims to "monitor" its "counselors" for quality controls, but admits it never has, the attorney general says.

Worst of all, perhaps, "Consumers who complained to defendants and requested to cancel their contracts are harassed and threatened by defendants with financial ruin and criminal prosecution. One consumer alleges that an eLove representative 'yelled four-letter curse words at [him], threatened to destroy [his] credit, prosecute [him] for a felony, and report [him] to the Texas Attorney General's Office' when the consumer attempted to cancel his contract." (Brackets in complaint.)

A woman complained that Lone Star offered "a three-month hold option" on her account, and when she tried to cancel it because she was not receiving referrals, "a representative responded that 'under no circumstances would money be returned' and the consumer 'could take it or leave it,'" the state says.

Texas seeks an injunction, disgorgement of unjust profits, rescission of contracts, and penalties of up to $20,000 for each act of deceptive trade, $250,000 for deceptive trade involving elderly people, $250 for each violation of the Internet Dating Safety Act, and penalties for illegal telephone solicitations, illegal debt collections, and violations of Texas Business and Commerce Codes. It also seeks freezing of assets, prohibition of any more advertising, including phone calls, email or on the Internet, without permission from the court, and to cease and desist trying to collect debts itself or through agents.

A call to Lone Star's 1-800 number in Boston on Monday morning was answered by a machine that said the person being called was unavailable.

The Better Business Bureau gave the company a "C" rating on its web page, checked Monday morning.

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