CBS4 Problem Solvers investigates complaints against local dating service

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A lot of people turn to dating services to find their soul mate, but CBS4 Problem Solvers uncovered complaints associated with a central Indiana dating company.

These days, you have plenty of options if you're looking for love: maybe too many. According to NASDAQ, online dating is a billion dollar industry, and it's one Tricia Sechrist knows well.

"I've been on all of them," Sechrist said.

Sechrist is in her 50's, a widower, with two grown kids. After she lost her husband unexpectedly, she took some time, and then decided to jump back in.

"I've been using the online sites and I'm just not getting anywhere," Sechrist said.

She wanted something better. When she saw an ad online for Indianapolis Singles, and found out the company was staffed locally, with an office in the city, she thought she'd found it.

"It was like, perfect, this is exactly what I want, because she told me everything I wanted to hear," Sechrist said.

She signed up, despite the sticker shock.

"I mean, I was a little shocked at the price," Sechrist said.

Sechrist said she paid $4,000 for a mid-level package. It included access to an online database, billed as exclusive and full of members at her level. Even better, she said the company told her it did background and credit checks.

A month later, she showed up for a photo and video shoot, and finally got her password to access that database. That's when she said things started to change.

"Once you got into the database, there was hardly anybody in there, and not the caliber that I expected, profession wise," Sechrist said.

On top of that, many of the profiles she showed us were listed as inactive.

Sechrist said a woman at the office told her not to worry, and to pick as many men as she was allowed to each day.

"She goes, but if you do that, you’re going to have so many dates, you won’t know what to do. I’ve had one response. One date, (or) two dates with the same guy," Sechrist said.

When CBS4 Problem Solvers first talked to Sechrist, two months into the service, not a single person had initiated contact with her, and a majority of the men she reached out to did not respond.

At that point, Sechrist started doing her research, and so did we.

Indianapolis Singles has an A minus from the Better Business Bureau, and they're an accredited business.

The president of the company, according to both the BBB and an Indiana business license, is John Meriggi out of Dallas, Texas.

That's a familiar name to our station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Back in 2007, WITI investigated Meriggi's company Great Expectations. They reported allegations of coercive tactics, high-priced contracts, and unhappy customers.

As a result of that investigation, the Wisconsin Attorney General sued the company.

The Attorney General in Arizona sued another company associated with Meriggi. Companies in both states were required to pay a total of $1 million dollars, including refunds to clients.

CBS4 Problem Solvers took this information to Central Indiana BBB CEO Tim Maniscalo. After seeing what we found, Maniscalo pulled the Indianapolis Singles page offline, and told us its accreditation is now under review by the BBB.

"We’ve also discovered that there are about a half a dozen related companies in other related BBB’s in several cities around the country. We’ve notified them of this," Maniscalo said.

Maniscalo said that includes Chicagoland Singles, Seattle Singles, Minneapolis Singles, and Phoenix Singles. He told us Meriggi is also associated with Columbus Singles, which has a C plus rating, and The Dallas Dating Company, which currently holds an F rating.

Between those six companies and Indianapolis Singles, clients have filed a total of 92 complaints with the BBB in the last three years.

"What we want to do is really have a system-wide look into this, investigation into this," Maniscalo said.

The Indiana Attorney General's Office has also fielded complaints. It sent CBS4 Problem Solvers a list of 13 complaints since 2014. Reasons for those complaints included "misrepresenting quantity," "misrepresenting quality, "misrepresenting terms of contract," and "refuse to cancel contract."

CBS4 Problem Solvers contacted Indianapolis Singles to get their response. A manager told us by phone that she did not know about the BBB's review and she needed to go to managers above her to speak with us. The next day, she emailed us saying the company had decided not to issue a response to our story.

As for Sechrist, she told us she would like to get her money back, but she doesn't expect it, since the contract she signed says Indianapolis Singles does not grant refunds of any kind.

"It’s a little embarrassing because I’m a lonely old lady and I had to go to a dating site, but I don’t want this to happen to somebody else. It’s been an awful experience," Sechrist said.

After CBS4 Problem Solvers first talked to Sechrist, she did have one gentleman reach out to her through the database. She also showed us emails where a manager pointed out other men who could be matches.

Still, Sechrist filed a complaint with the Attorney General and the office has picked up her case for mediation.

According to Maniscalo, he's working to coordinate among all five BBB locations where Singles companies operate. He said as a group, they'll come to a conclusion about what to do with their accreditation, but that could take some time.

CBS4 Problem Solvers wants to hear from you if you've been a client of Indianapolis Singles, whether you had a good or bad experience. You can contact us at ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com or (317) 677-1544.

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