Ellie Goldstein says she’s deeply lonely and desperately wants to meet someone special. She’s 84 and spends most days alone reading and watching TV in her condo in Reading.
Last month, Goldstein found a matchmaking service online and figured it was worth a try. She filled out a questionnaire and made an appointment for a face-to-face session with Michelle, one of the matchmakers at The Matchmaking Company in Burlington.
Goldstein told Michelle she wanted to meet someone about her own age. They did not discuss the availability of men in her age bracket. As the session drew to a close, Michelle told her the price for four “introductions” was “thirty-nine ninety-five.”
Goldstein thought that meant $39.95. But it was actually $3,995.
She said she told Michelle that it was too much money. “When I tried to say no, she was very convincing why I should go ahead with it,” she told me. She said she remembers Michelle saying: “This will change your life. You won’t feel so lonely like you do now.”
Goldstein ended up putting the full amount on a credit card and signing a contract that highlighted that it was “non-cancelable and non-refundable.”
She told me she understood and initialed the paragraph about cancellation. She didn’t discuss her decision beforehand with family or anyone else.
By the time she got home, Goldstein was filled with buyer’s remorse. She wanted out of the contract and a refund. She said she called the company that afternoon but didn’t get an answer or voicemail.
The next morning, Goldstein said she called repeatedly until someone answered. But she was told: “Sorry, all sales are final.”
Should she get a refund?
Goldstein said she blames herself for “not getting up and walking out” when she realized the cost. That was her first impulse, she said. But the thought of going out on dates sounded so good that she hesitated.
“She was very convincing,” Goldstein said of Michelle. “But I was easily convinced because I was so lonely.”
When we first talked, Goldstein told me how much she missed her “sweetheart,” Bob, who died eight years ago. She and Bob never married but considered themselves life partners, she said. That relationship lasted more than 30 years.
Prior to Bob, Goldstein said, she was married several times, beginning when she was 19 in the 1950s. All ended in divorce, she said. Bob, she said, was her only “true love.”
Goldstein said she told Michelle all about Bob. “I told her the love of my life was gone, that I cry a lot, and I kiss his picture good night every night,” she said.
Goldstein is a retired bookkeeper who still does taxes for family and friends. She drives and manages her finances and uses the internet and keeps a spotless condo, with Bob’s framed picture sitting on a box containing his ashes in the living room.
Goldstein disputed the $3,995 charge in a follow-up telephone call with The Matchmaking Company. The company told her it already had someone to introduce to her. But she wanted no part of it. One of her sons called and threatened the company with a lawsuit, she said. She also disputed the charge with her credit card company and the office of the attorney general.
An attorney representing the company wrote a three-paragraph letter to Goldstein, saying her initials on the contract showed “you read, understood, and agreed with these [cancellation] terms. For these reasons we cannot accommodate your request to cancel the contract.”
The attorney also said the company was prepared to continue offering its services to her.
Goldstein’s credit card company said she was off the hook for the disputed amount for at least as long as it took to investigate. Ordinarily, a credit card company will ask the merchant for its account of what happened and side with the merchant if it determines the customer willingly made the charge. In Goldstein’s case, I think the credit card company will side with The Matchmaking Company.
The Matchmaking Company, which is based in Oklahoma, operates in nine states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A large portion of its clients are age 50 and older, according to Mike Carroll, a company vice president.
He said “it was not at all unusual” to have clients in their 80s and even in their 90s. If his company can’t find matches for a client due to age or other demographic factors, it will provide a refund, he said.
I suggested the company had put little time and effort into Goldstein’s case before she asked to cancel, therefore a refund might be in order. But he said it costs the company $2,800 for “client acquisition” — the cost in advertisement, marketing, office overhead, personnel, and credit card fees “to bring one client in the door.”
“Giving a full refund wouldn’t be fair to me,” he said. “I spent money upfront with good intentions.”
There is a state law that guarantees consumers the right to cancel a contract during a three-day “cooling-off” period, but that law applies only to door-to-door sales, health club contracts, time-shares, and credit repair and services organizations.
I contacted Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of the website ConsumerWorld.org, for his thoughts. He recalled a case involving a dating service he handled 30 years ago, when he was an attorney in the consumer protection division of the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.
To settle complaints brought against it by the attorney general’s office, Great Expectations, which has long since gone out of business, agreed to “not engage in high-pressure sales tactics,” which included “playing on consumers’ emotional vulnerabilities,” according to a press release issued at the time.
As part of the settlement, Great Expectations also agreed to offer consumers a three-day right of cancellation, even though it was not required by law. At the time, a bill was pending at the Legislature to make such a right of cancellation mandatory for all dating services. Obviously, it never passed.
Based on what I told him about Goldstein’s case, Dworsky said, “it sounds like this company didn’t take no for an answer from this senior citizen, and to some degree played on her emotions and loneliness.”
I don’t think Goldstein was subjected to egregious high-pressure sales tactics, although the whole episode was fraught with high emotions for her.
And I understand Carroll has a right to recover upfront costs.
But I do question whether The Matchmaking Company should keep all the money Goldstein paid. In our discussion, Carroll said he was willing to refund Goldstein $1,200, which is the difference between the $4,000 she paid and the $2,800 he says is his “client acquisition” cost.
When I told her, Goldstein said no. But I think she should take it and consider a new strategy for meeting someone special.
And maybe the state Legislature should consider following California’s example by enacting a three-day cooling-off period for dating services.