A Vancouver woman has filed a complaint with the BC Better Business Bureau (BBB) after a gay dating service promised her suitable matches but allegedly failed to deliver.
Jennifer Jones, 31, was hoping to find love when she approached Preferred Partners in January 2011. A year of slow responses and unsuitable matches later, she decided enough was enough.
When she expressed her disappointment, Jones says, the company told her the process takes time. But a year later, Jones had yet to go on a single date.
“I didn’t hear anything for months and I thought, ‘This is bullshit!’ So I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau,” she says.
Despite repeated calls to Preferred Partners’ head office in Toronto, no one replied to Xtra’s requests for an interview.
Mark Fernandes, of the BC BBB, confirms that Jones filed a complaint and says it’s still active. “The consumer filed a complaint with us in December,” he says. “The complaint is still open here, and we are working with the consumer and Preferred Partners to get a resolution.”
Fiona Dunbar is a dispute resolution officer for the Ontario BBB. She says three complaints have also been filed there against Preferred Partners in the last three years.
According to the Ontario BBB’s website, one complaint pertains to advertising and sales issues, and the other two pertain to the company’s products and services.
Jones says she sought professional matchmaking help after having no luck in Vancouver’s lesbian dating scene. “The reality is that we’re all looking for love,” she says. “I’m a professional, and I was honestly looking for someone who was in the same place as me in wanting a relationship.”
Jones called Preferred Partners’ Toronto head office and was immediately scheduled for a preliminary interview at the company’s Vancouver office at 828 Drake St.
During her initial interview, Jones says, the matchmaker told her to write down everything that she was looking for in a potential partner. “I want to have a family, and in my application I put 30 to 39 as my age range for a match,” Jones says. “I was told that there were many women that fit my profile. They said that I was an amazing person and that it would only take four matches for me, but then they told me that they would give me an additional two [matches] just in case.”
Jones says the matchmaker made her feel comfortable and confident. After negotiating a fee, she immediately signed a contract.
“At the time I was unable to afford the $5,000 fee because of my financial situation, due to medical bills from a car accident,” Jones says. “They told me that they would do it for $3,000 but that I shouldn’t tell anyone that I had been given a deal.”
Two weeks after she signed the contract she got a phone call, but “it turned out that I knew that match so we never met.”
Two months passed without another call, so Jones called Preferred Partners to inquire about the delay. The company soon offered her another potential match, but this woman was older than Jones’s desired age range and had just been diagnosed with cancer.
Jones declined the date and immediately called Preferred Partners back. “I assumed that this wouldn’t be considered one of my six matches, as I never would have accepted had I known of the situation,” she says.
That’s when she learned that the original matchmaker assigned to her file had left the office and been replaced.
“I had another conversation with a new matchmaker and expressed my disappointment,” Jones says. She again described her ideal match. But this time she was “given the impression that the service didn’t have many women in my age range that fit my desired qualities. I was shocked.”
Four months later, she says, she was matched with a woman a decade older than what she had requested in her profile. Again, Jones declined the date.
“I again had a conversation with a new matchmaker and expressed my unhappiness with the product and quality of service,” she says.
By December, she still hadn’t gone on a single date.
“I took action and contacted the Better Business Bureau,” Jones says. “But Preferred Partners’ stance is that these women are considered two of my six matches and therefore I am not entitled to a 50-percent refund.”
According to Jones, Preferred Partners’ policy is that as soon as a contract is signed, clients relinquish 50 percent of their membership fees. If a client then contacts a potential date, even by phone, they are no longer entitled to any refund whatsoever.
“I should have looked more closely at the contract,” Jones admits. “I was out 50 percent at that point. But at that stage I wasn’t looking at that and I take responsibility for that.”
Jones says the company initially wooed her, but now she just feels scammed.
“Preferred Partners offered me a product, and it turns out that, in fact, they don’t have many women in my age range that match my criteria. At this stage, I feel like it was a scam to take my money as I have spent more time following up and initiating the discussions about matches,” she says.
Preferred Partners, which also has offices in Calgary and Ottawa, was incorporated in April 2010. Before that, it operated as another gay matchmaking company called Entre-Nous.
As Entre-Nous, the company faced numerous BBB complaints and even some lawsuits.
In November 2007, Entre-Nous was added to the Ontario government’s Consumer Protection Branch’s Beware List.
Patricia Ross, a counsellor with Entre-Nous who assists with client services, told Xtra in February 2008 that the company’s addition to the Beware List was an administrative error regarding its GST number and had nothing to do with its service provision.
In June 2008, Terry Wong of Toronto was awarded a refund representing half of the almost $7,000 he paid to Entre-Nous for its matchmaking services, after suing the company in small-claims court. Wong said Entre-Nous misrepresented itself and did not live up to its contractual obligations.
“In this case there can be no doubt that [Entre-Nous’s] form of contract is, at least in some aspects, one-sided as alleged by the plaintiff,” the judge ruled, adding that Wong, too, bore some responsibility for the situation.
“It would be easy to suspect that business ventures like that of [Entre-Nous] are ‘scams’ that hope to ‘fleece’ unwary and gullible customers,” Judge R Priddle wrote. “But the latter, as they become disenchanted when they discover there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, plead that they were misled and rely on common law and statutory provisions to discredit the vendors and justify refunds.”
In January 2008, a Vancouver man filed his own complaint against Entre-Nous in BC small-claims court. Court documents show the plaintiff, Gregory M, was seeking compensation for the nearly $10,000 he claims to have paid Entre-Nous for matchmaking services. The complainant later told Xtra that the dispute had been resolved but would not comment on the settlement.
Fernandes told Xtra in September 2008 that the BBB had received 272 inquiries nationwide about Entre-Nous, 93 of them from BC.
“The Better Business Bureau has provided conciliation services for Jennifer Jones and Preferred Partners,” Fernandes says now.
Jones says she was recently informed by her BBB conflict resolution officer that the conciliation process has ended and no resolution has been made.
She says that as part of the BBB resolution process, Preferred Partners has offered her additional matches. But Jones says she just wants a refund and to put the ordeal behind her.
“I do not want anyone else in our community to experience what I’ve experienced,” she adds. “The company needs to be held accountable.”