Bondi sues matchmaking service

SinglesPLUS, a Southern matchmaking company which operates in Brevard County, has been sued by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi for allegedly making false claims about its success rates, matches, and screening process.

The lawsuit was announced in a news release by the Attorney General's Division of Consumer Protection, which stated that it was suing SinglesPLUS, which is based in South Carolina, for "unfair and deceptive trade practices" in Florida, including allegedly spurious claims that love matches were made by psychologists and other licensed professionals.

The Attorney General's office asserts that SinglesPLUS matchmakers were not "trained and qualified relationship counselors," as the company's marketing suggested, and that these matchmakers were actually telemarketers and salespeople paid by commission.

Bondi's announcement reads as follows: "The Attorney General's Office is seeking refunds for defrauded consumers, civil penalties, a permanent injunction, and attorneys' fees. Tuesday the court granted a motion for temporary injunction and an asset freeze, and appointed a receiver who has now taken possession of the defendants' companies."

SinglesPLUS was previously the subject of a FLORIDA TODAY watchdog story which discussed serious complaints from its consumers, some of whom alleged that they had not received the services they paid for. Brevard residents have most likely encountered small roadside signs for the company's various matchmaking websites, including VieraSingles.com and SpaceCoastDating.com, most of which start with the phrase "Single?" and direct people to web addresses that seem hyperlocal.

However, according to the Attorney General's office, SinglesPLUS owner Ken Pogue operates more than 215 domain names, many of which have names evocative of specific communities in the South, thereby giving the impression that the associated services are locally based.

Ken Pogue, the founder and president of SinglesPLUS, told FLORIDA TODAY that his company intended to fully cooperate with authorities. "We're working with them to get to the bottom of it and to see where they think the problem lies," he said.

Pogue continued, "We're working with them right now to get to a resolution as quickly as possible, and if there is anything they would like us to change, we will address it if they feel we have done anything improper."

The official complaint filed by the Office of the Attorney General against SinglesPLUS accuses the matchmaking company of numerous legal transgressions, including the following:

•Selling memberships to consumers for as much as $10,000 and subsequently failing to adhere to those consumers' stated preferences about what they were seeking in a relationship partner.

•Falsely claiming that all prospective members were screened to eliminate those who were married or who had criminal records.

•Falsely claiming an above-90-percent success rate.

•Falsely claiming that initial interviews with company representatives were free.

The Attorney General's office also states that SinglesPLUS "engaged in high-pressure sales tactics and failed to disclose to consumers that their initial interviews with company sales representatives were being secretly recorded and transmitted to other company personnel and offices."

In addition to suing the company, Bondi is also filing personal lawsuits against Pogue, the company's founder, and Heather Olson, the manager of the company's Jacksonville office. Two other companies operated by Pogue and Olson — The Relationship Company and Jacksonville Singles Search, Inc. — are also defendants in the lawsuit.

Bondi's civil complaint, which her office released to FLORIDA TODAY, alleges that Pogue violated the terms of a 1999 "Assurance of Voluntary Compliance" agreement with the state that one of his previous, now-defunct matchmaking companies agreed to after then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth launched an inquiry into his business and advertising practices.

The terms of that agreement specified that Pogue's matchmaking service must allow consumers to cancel contracts in the event that they elected to so within three days of signing those contracts, that the company must refrain from making claims about its success rates unless those claims had a "reasonable basis," and that they could not "deceptively or unfairly represent" the expertise of their staff.

In addition to actual damages, Bondi is seeking punitive penalties in her lawsuit against SinglesPLUS. She is asking that the company be fined $10,000 for every violation of the Florida Deceptive and Trade Practices Act perpetrated against ordinary citizens, and $15,000 per violation in cases where those citizens were in a protected class, including military veterans or elderly people.


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