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Nationwide inquiries, complaints still dog Entre-Nous

BBB logged 93 inquiries from BC alone: Fernandes

Months after an Ontario man won a small claims dispute against Entre-Nous, a gay Toronto-based matchmaking service, complaints and inquiries about the nationwide company continue to filter through Better Business Bureaus (BBB) in Ontario and BC.

Mark Fernandes, media relations with the BBB in BC, says that since January, 272 nationwide inquiries have been made regarding Entre-Nous Network — 93 of them from BC. Moreover, Fernandes says, eight complaints have been made to the BBB regarding Entre-Nous over the last three years.  Of the eight complaints made, three were from BC.

Paul F, a 74 year-old Vancouver man who signed on with the matchmaking network over a year ago, says he filed a BBB complaint after he was frustrated with what he alleges is the lack of service he received from Entre-Nous. Paul (who requested that Xtra West not print his full name because of his work in the community) says he’s now trying to get his money back.

“They told me the fee and I nearly fell through the floor,” according to Paul, who alleges that Entre-Nous asked that he pay $500 up front for services. Paul says when he told Entre-Nous he didn’t have the cash, they allegedly agreed to a deal that had the retired music director paying monthly installments through his credit card. Paul says he paid the $500 over five months but alleges he did not hear from the company for half a year.

“I waited for at least six months and nothing happened,” he says, “so I started phoning every damned day.”

Paul says when Entre-Nous finally got him a date, the experience proved disappointing. He alleges that the company didn’t honour the requests he made regarding the characteristics he was looking for in a mate.

According to Paul, Entre-Nous sent him on another date three months later, which he says also ended in disappointment. Paul alleges that he specifically requested that the company match him with someone his age or younger and the man referred to Paul was much older.

Another concern Paul raises is the alleged disparity in Entre-Nous’ membership fees. He alleges that one of his referrals had paid considerably less for the service. Paul says he discovered the difference in fees during a conversation he had with his initial date — a topic not permitted through a clause in his membership agreement which explicitly states that members will not disclose fees.

Patricia Ross, client service representative for Entre-Nous, explains due to cost discrepancies and an adherence to confidentiality, Entre-Nous discourages clients from discussing membership costs with other members. “There isn’t a standard fee; it will vary from person to person,” she says, adding that “desirability” could play a factor in deciding to charge someone less for the service.

Ross notes there are different price tags attached to the various services Entre-Nous offers. She said a membership service constitutes as an active search. Memberships cost considerably more but individuals are also referred for more dates, she adds. In contrast, what is known as “database” membership is really not a membership at all, Ross explains. “Database’ clients pay less money and are told when they sign a contract that their referrals will be more sporadic than clients who pay thousands for a full-blown membership.

Paul had a database membership and paid $500 for two dates in 13 months.

Ross says there is nothing shady about the membership fees. “The organization doesn’t have anything to hide,” she assures.

Meanwhile, Terry Wong, the Toronto, Ontario man who filed suit against Entre-Nous and received a refund in June for half the money he paid to the company, claimed he had spent nearly $8,000 on a membership with the matchmaking service.

In a Jun 27 ruling, Judge R Priddle stated that Wong was entitled to a refund representing half of the almost $7,700 he paid to Entre-Nous. The judge also awarded Wong interest on the sum awarded, court costs, and $500 for “inconvenience and expense.”

But the award falls far short of the amount Wong was seeking: a full refund plus $10,000 in damages.

In his ruling, the judge agreed that while Entre-Nous did not attempt to scam Wong, the company did not completely play fair.

“In this case there can be no doubt that [Entre-Nous’] form of contract is, at least in some aspects, one-sided as alleged by the plaintiff,” Priddle wrote in the decision.

But the judge also noted that Wong bore some of the responsibility.

“It would be easy to suspect that business ventures like that of [Entre-Nous] are ‘scams’ that hope to ‘fleece’ unwary and gullible customers,” wrote Priddle. “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.”

Back in Vancouver, Paul says he wants his money back and will continue to fight for it, but notes that litigation is not something he is considering. He says he’s tried calling the company’s Vancouver office but “couldn’t get through.” He says he suspects the office is empty.

In August 2007 — when Paul became an Entre-Nous client — the company was working out of a Granville street office downtown. Currently the company is listed as occupying a suite on the fourth floor of the Vancouver World Trade Centre at Canada Place.

On its website, Entre-Nous claims to have regional offices set up in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa. However, the only phone number listed on the site directs callers to the Entre-Nous headquarters in Toronto. A visit to the new Vancouver office revealed no record of Entre-Nous in the building directory and no name on the office door. When asked if Entre-Nous Network had an office on the premises, building security told Xtra West that the company shares rented space and only occupies it occasionally for meetings.

“We do have an office in Vancouver,” Ross says. “We have counsellors that do appointments only.” She says although the office is not run on a continual basis, the space is used often for client interviews.

Fernandes says because Entre-Nous is a Toronto business, complaints and inquiries filed in BC and other provinces are being directed to the Ontario BBB. He adds that although complaints against dating services are not as abundant as other grievances coming into the BBB, he says he is familiar with the cases and said that people need to be more aware of the potential risks while getting involved in these services.

Close to Valentine’s Day, Fernandes composed a newsletter informing consumers of the potential risks involved in dating services. In the statement, President and CEO of the Mainland BC BBB, Lynda Pasacreta, urged consumers to do their homework when considering these kinds of services. “Canadians spend millions of dollars on online dating sites each year,” she said. “Whether you’re willing to pay thousands for a matchmaker or 50 dollars a month for a website membership, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into and exactly how to get out of it.”

Vancouver resident, Gregory M, not only got out of his Entre-Nous membership, but reached an out of court settlement with the company. Gregory had been going through litigation with the dating service until last June when court files show that his small claims suite against Entre-Nous had been withdrawn.

At the beginning of the year, Gregory filed a claim for $9,700 — the total sum of his membership plus GST and court filing costs. In the notice of claim affidavit, Gregory said he was sold on the idea of the service after sales representatives allegedly assured him there were over 3,000 Entre-Nous members in Vancouver. In his statement, Gregory said he began to doubt the promises made by the company and felt unconvinced that the company was able to deliver the level of service it claimed to provide. 

In a recent phone interview with Xtra West, Gregory confirmed that his claim against the matchmaking service had been settled. When asked for details of the resolution, Gregory refused comment, explaining that part of his settlement agreement with Entre-Nous was that he would not discuss the resolution with media. Although he couldn’t divulge details, Gregory M says he learned a tough lesson. “I would not recommend [Entre-Nous] and I would not do it again.”

When Xtra West asked Ross if the company allegedly forbid Gregory M from discussing his settlement with media, she said she could not answer the questions and promised to look into the issue further. At press time, Xtra West had not received a response from Ross.

Ross did say that Entre-Nous’ track record overall is “amazing” and says the eight complaints in nearly three years is not uncommon. “If you look at any large company in any service you will have some complaints.”

Ross says if people are dissatisfied with the service they should be more proactive and communicate their concerns to the company.

Meanwhile, Paul says he knows he should probably walk away from Entre-Nous but indicates that if the service referred him on another date he would probably go. He says if he won’t get his money back, then he should try to get his money’s worth.