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State of the International Dating Industry 2013

The democratization of information and information resources is changing the dating industry, and especially the international dating industry.

There has always been a legitimate dating industry, as long as humans have roamed the Earth – matchmakers of many kinds in diverse traditions and cultures. Only in the past fifty years have computers and computer networks become part of this industry. As in most industries, the underlying technologies significantly affect the business models.

We are in the midst of a major shift in the business models in the international dating industry. It is not over (and of course will not be the last change), but here is what has happened and is happening.

Background – 1990-2010

Over the past twenty years, the business model of international dating businesses evolved.  It began that time with many companies producing and selling physical magazines with pictures as a way to introduce people.  This model had worked for over a hundred years already. Local picture-taking bridal agencies developed in many countries such as the Philippines and Russia, partnering with companies in Europe and the US to produce and sell the actual magazines. Tours to both Philippines and Russia became more popular as more and more men considered marrying women from overseas. Companies continued providing contact information (addresses and eventually email addresses) for a fee, as well as with the internet, increasingly offering enhanced services such as translations, paid telephone conversations, paid eDates, and per-message-fee “translated” messages.

Present – 2010-2013

By 2010, the largest international dating companies – Russia/Cyprus-based Anastasia and US-based A Foreign Affair – were providing a vast array of services via the internet and by partnering with local agencies. The hundreds of sites owned or facilitated by these companies (and similar copycat companies based primarily in Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere) became increasingly profitable by requiring clients to pay per-message fees and offering per-minute telephone and video chat sessions. These new services continued to build upon the independently-owned bridal agencies in Russia, Ukraine, China, Philippines, Thailand, Latin America, and other countries even including Africa. The model developed by these companies was to compensate the local agency based on commissions – some variation of X dollars for listing a profile, Y dollars for each message exchanged through the sites, Z dollars for each minute of telephone conversation or webcam chat. The elephant in the room was that the local agencies were incentivized to do whatever they had to in order to earn money.  As we and others have documented, local agencies have now developed entire operations based on creating profiles of paid persons who actually have no interest in meeting a romantic partner through the sites, but who are willing to pretend in exchange for compensation.

Meanwhile, inexpensive and even free internet-only services started between 2000 and 2010 were quickly gaining popularity as the internet and cell phone boom transformed communication worldwide in countries rich and poor. Among these, dozens of sites owned by Australian Cupid Media, dozens of independent free and paid sites, as well as among these also Christian Filipina, which we started in 2009.

We think that the business model of the large per-message-based sites using local agencies is near its peak of profitability.  We doubt sums as large are achievable or sustainable without compensation for profile owners, that encourage paying members to keep communicating and paying through the sites. We predict this business model is soon to be on the wane, because the technologies of the internet allow men and women to communicate about their actual experiences. Is it enough for these per-message/minute services to say they are aggressively eradicating fraud? We think not. The word is out: consumers do not want to be corresponding with paid and/or professional daters, and consumers know how to research.

Not only is the word out among consumers, but it appears that the regulatory agencies have their ears open as well. When Steven Baker, Director of the Midwest Region of the US Federal Trade Commission, keynoted the January 2013 iDate conference, he was not going because of the proximity to the casinos At 3:39 in the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzn13OWW3x4 from the iDate staff, Baker explains that he was there both to educate others as well as to gather information for his and other US law enforcement agencies as well as other law enforcement agencies around the world. Is the the FTC investigating this industry? We have been provided records from the FTC for consumer complaints made to government agencies regarding some of the companies in the international dating industry. We have found some patterns in these complaints that support our thesis that consumers are concerned about the business model of the per-message/per-minute sites.  Here are some of the results contained in the report we have been provided (this are just selected examples, not an exhaustive list of the data provided – these are presented not as proof that the reported incidents are actually true, as we have not investigated the specific details and could not do so, but rather as an indication of the apparent type of data being provided by consumers to law enforcement agencies – the full reports are publicly available by making a freedom of information act request from the FTC):

NOTE: To prevent interference with pending law enforcement action, prior to any investigative action, please contact the IC3 at SEARCH@IC3.GOV. Please check the “CSN Record Details page – Data Reference field” link for further details on IC3 data. — Incident description: I spent a great deal of time and money [at chnlove.com], estimated at 800, plus the cost of a visa and flight to Beijing, and consequently train from Beijing to Shangqiu. I had communicated with the so-called Nina Cao and we planned to meet and potentially form a relationship. For some unknown reason, before I arrived, she was told information that only the agency could have known or conceived of. She was also told not to write me, which was truly hard to imagine, as the agency makes money off every letter we write. They intentionally breached their contract with me and destroyed this relationship. I never met her and asked them to refund the money. They told me more than once that they were there to serve the gentlemen, not to contact the women involved. Hence, they violated their own code of ethics and their breach of contract cost me well over $1500.

NOTE: To prevent interference with pending law enforcement action, prior to any investigative action, please contact the IC3 at SEARCH@IC3.GOV. Please check the “More Information on Data Contributor Complaints” link for further details on IC3 data. — Incident description: Advertising profile of single ladies looking for partner, but company [Thaimatches and it parent affiliate chnlove] refuses to provide information to verify true existence of advertised ladies. Company’s advertised service includes lady client’s address requests by gentlemen for a fee, which would verify lady’s existence but request form will not accept names or ID numbers of their loses ladies. Repeated requests to customer service for legitimacy verification of true existence their female clients has would not be provided. All supposed message communication between myself and listed lady client were not sent direct but sent through a so-called interpreter with so called replies always containing text to "write back" soon (which the company can obviously make more money by charging fees to send an fees to send and to read $4.25 to over $6.25) reply content would not answer simple non-invasive questions that would help verify true existence of lady as the company’s client. The reply seemed fake and often copied phrases exactly as the lady’s posted profile’s self history. All replies from company to my specific complaints were done with generalized statements, never showing any proof that specific ladies existed. My experience with legitimate matchmaking site always had no problem in providing specific information and details and access to direct contact with the requested female clients. This company is a scam and is practicing fraud. Please begin an investigation. Large sums of money is scammed away to many Americans, including myself.

NOTE: To prevent interference with pending law enforcement action, prior to any investigative action, please contact the IC3 at SEARCH@IC3.GOV. Please check the “More Information on Data Contributor Complaints” link for further details on IC3 data. — Incident description: A Foreign Affair is running a bogus mail order bride service. It seems to use fake IDs and then get girls in FSU to write letters, appear in photos or talk to men – I got flowers delivered to a ‘Vera’ – the letter I got back was clearly bogus – it referred to me having spoken with the girl which I had not and other irregularities – I am a trained law expert and I know cyber crime when I see it.

NOTE: To prevent interference with pending law enforcement action, prior to any investigative action, please contact the IC3 at SEARCH@IC3.GOV. Please check the “More Information on Data Contributor Complaints” link for further details on IC3 data. — Incident description: I joined the website hotrussianbrides.com to correspond with and find a foreign wife in the Ukraine. We emailed each other 43 times, beginning with her contacting me initially on 5/22/11. Today (8/7) I went online to chat with her for the first time, where I could actually see her and we could “chat” by typing (a translator/site administrator was there). She asked me how long I had been registered on the site, which I thought was an odd question since we had been chatting for so long. So I asked her had she ever written me before, and she said, “NO!” (my emphasis). I said we had sent around 30 emails between us and that someone must be writing the emails for her. The internet connection was immediately terminated by the site administrator. I copied and pasted the conversation as shown below (her “screen name” is Julyasky)-(the conversation starts at the bottom and ends at the top): Site Administrator: This lady’s account no longer appears to be online. Any billing has stopped. Me: sorry to hear that. somebody has been writing for you and we have had around 30 emails between us. Julyasky: No, I haven’t Me: have you written me before? Julyasky: How long have you registered on this site?

NOTE: To prevent interference with pending law enforcement action, prior to any investigative action, please contact the IC3 at SEARCH@IC3.GOV. Please check the “CSN Record Details page – Data Reference field” link for further details on IC3 data. — Incident description: Anastasia Date (the Agency) provides internet contact with women overseas, in this case in the Ukraine. I went to the Ukraine to visit with some of the women I’d met online. The Agency disrupted and sabotaged my efforts. It threatened at least one girl-told her that it was against the law to meet me, and said she would be fined if she did so. It tampered with my email to at least two girls, delaying mail for which I had paid, and preventing our meeting. It made false claims that it was against the IMBRA (federal law) for me and my contacts to exchange email addresses and phone numbers. One long term contact (begin August 2011, exchanged 38 letters and much Chat time-all of which I paid for), Yana (my complaint is against her as well as the Agency) communicated affectionately with me up until the day we were supposed to meet, then dropped out-without excuse. I suspect that the AGency pays girls “under the table” to write to and develop relationships with men. In my own initial investigation I’ve found numerous assertions from former users that Anastasia Date is a scam.

NOTE: To prevent interference with pending law enforcement action, prior to any investigative action, please contact the IC3 at SEARCH@IC3.GOV. Please check the “CSN Record Details page – Data Reference field” link for further details on IC3 data. — Incident description: In September 2012 I joined Amolatina.com to meet a Colombian lady online in the hopes of getting married again. I am divorced, and previously married a Colombia lady through another website, in which I have a 15 year old daughter who was born in Cali, Colombia. When I joined Amolatina.com, I saw thgat it was very expensive, and you had to buy credits in which I purchased approx. $700.00 worth to date. I received many letters from beautful ladies, in which most of the letters you are charged 10 credits to open them, or approx. $10.00 dollars each. What I found out was, the leters I received were not from the ladies, but from the amolatina.com employees who send them out as generic letters in order to get the customer to spend more money. Since this, I alos involve myself in the chat rooms whereas beautiful ladies want to talk to you online. After speaking to them in the chat room, and paying one credit per minute, I found out that these ladies were not the ones in the photo on the chat site, and their answers to questions were roughly the same. I investigated and found a laundry list of complaints against amolatina.com, and practically all their affiliates, and their main company, Anastasia International located in Bangor, Maine. I am an Insurance Adjuster by trade, and I do many preliminary fraud investigations in South Florida for Citizens Insurance Company. I read well over 100 complaints, and all the complaints dating back 5 years are the same as what I see today. You need to go onloine and review the complaints for yourself. You have let this go on for too long, and I knoiw I am not the only one who has been violated and cheated here… How Anastasia International and Amolatina work their system is they put out a request to staret agencies insouth America, and all over the world. They have a video online in the Medillin, Colombia office which shows how they hire ladies to chat with the customer under false pretenses, as the man’s profile and photo are shown, as well as the imposter ladies photo is shown. These agencies hire models, purchase the rights to their photos and then makeup a false profile about them. When the man goes online, he sees which lady (imposter) is online, and then enters the chat room with her. When he enters the chat room, the agency has another person intercept the chat, both photos and profiles come up on their computer, and then the fraud occurs… Ananstasia claims they have no idea what their agencies are doing, but that is B.S. The fraud occurs when we good U.S. Citizens are defrauded into believing we are really talking to the real lady whose photo and profile we pay for to talk to, when she doesn’t even exist… I have noticed that there are some ladies on this website that are not hired by these agencies, and they are credible, however fewer than the number of imposters. I believe the imposters photos have the amolatina logo on their photos, and also you will notice a red outline around the photos of the real ladies that are online. This red outline is a key piece of evidence. I hope you good folks do something about this… Read all the complaints, review the you-tube video, and review the medillin agency video on how they work the system…. I am going to persue PayPal to stop doing business with this outfit. Thank you for your efforts, (b)(6)

As time goes on, more and more mainstream press as well as individual consumers and companies are sharing information about these business models that seem to be leaving consumers empty-handed.  On the mainstream press side, Dan Slater noted in his book Love in the Time of Algorithms that ”the staffs of local bridal agencies will often pose as the women in the profiles, responding to incoming messages in order to keep the rubles rolling in.” More recently, Anne VanderMey of Fortune noted that women are “paid to respond” in her analysis of AnastasiaDate. Individuals such as Tony Bochene have come out with videos and websites talking about their experiences with companies employing these business models. Mark Davis at Dream Connections has provided online webinars on the topic of online dating schemes with Rick Butts.  Here at Christian Filipina we have developed both a YouTube channel as well as Advice Articles to educate consumers about these industry trends. And consumers, too, have been posting their own experiences at many forums online as well as in their own YouTube videos. Anyone with access to search engines and youtube can read and watch about the experiences of other consumers. This democratization has to compete against the fifty plus million dollars per year that these large companies are using to promote their ongoing, still-profitable business models. If this is a case of David versus Goliath, we know how the story should end. If this is a case of thousands of Davids versus a few Goliaths, we believe it will end in the same way.

Future – 2013-

This battle of Davids and Goliaths is presently linked to advertising platforms such as Google, Microsoft, PoF, FB and many more. These platforms enjoy enormous revenues by siding with and legitimizing the Goliaths. Several years ago, Google also profited from advertising Canadian Pharmacies; eventually, Google was investigated and settled for $500 million with the US government, admitting that they should never have allowed the advertising in the first place. No doubt well-funded pharmaceutical companies in the US helped to ensure that battle was quickly fought and won.  Legitimate dating sites do not have similar deep pockets. So we do not know how long this battle will take or whether these advertising platforms will willingly give up these large revenue sources. It could be a long battle, if not, but we think we are nevertheless on the right side of history. But what will remain in this industry?

We do believe there is a place for tours.  There are some services out there that run tours that we believe are legitimate, excellent ways to meet people. (We currently have no plans to run any tours at CF.)

We also believe there is a place out there for free dating sites.  There are people who do not require a high level of features, who do not need the support of a helpful staff, who are comfortable sorting through thousands of fake profiles and scam profiles. (We currently have no plans at CF to run a free dating site, either.)

There is also a place for paid dating sites such as ours. This model, shared by many other paid sites, is a highly-functioning site that has affordable monthly fees.  Even within this model, there is a range of possibilities.  At CF, we have a partner discount program that is included with the upgraded membership, we have free and upgraded-only forums, we have friendly customer service agents, and we manually approve (or reject) every new or changed profile and picture at the site. Many of our competitors who charge monthly fees as do we, do not offer these services and we believe this sets us apart.

Those companies attempting to employ a one-size-fits-all model, forcing consumers to engage in the most expensive tour-based scenario interlinked with per-message and per-minute fees, lubricated by payments to agencies and indirectly to people, these companies will not be able enjoy their dominance of the marketplace much longer. The word is out, the emperor has been seen to have no clothes. They will have to do more than advertise, they will have to change their business models, most likely to one that is less profitable and more similar to ours, or else lose the majority of their clients while focusing only on the few, most gullible consumers who fail to conduct even rudimentary research.

We believe consumer consciousness is reaching a tipping point. At some point, we predict that search engines, too, will be exposed for their role in promoting the business employing questionable business models and not serving consumers.

Meanwhile, services such as Christian Filipina, that serve their members, care for people, and maintain integrity in this questionable environment, will continue to help more and more sincere people to connect in communities and grow together.

Our motto here at CF is Friends, Fellowship, Family, and Love. This is the direction the industry is slowing taking in 2013. It is an honor for us to be a part of encouraging all the players in online dating to better serve their members.

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