2003-11-28 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

With New Years Eve quickly approaching, we are seeing the often depicted scene of a couple celebrating the beginning of the New Year in front of a fireplace or kissing at the stroke of midnight while at a party. That scenario may be useful for advertisers, however, it is often not reflective of the reality faced by many. Because many people feel lonely during the holidays, they will often seek companionship. One way in which they go about a search is through a dating service. The search for love is an emotional journey and some dating services may take advantage of the emotional vulnerability of prospective clients. Before approaching a dating service, you should be aware of the rights afforded to you in New York State.

The General Business Law §394-c sets out the limitations on certain contracts involving social referral services. According to the statute, a social referral service includes any service that, for a fee, provides the matching of members of the opposite sex for dating and general social contact. Once you have found a service with which you are comfortable, keep in mind that the service is not permitted to charge a fee in excess of $1,000, and the contract is limited to a period of two years. When you sign a contract, the service cannot require you to purchase ancillary services as a prerequisite for entering into the contract. Ancillary services are goods or services directly or indirectly related to the referral service process, including but not limited to photography, grooming, cosmetology, dating etiquette, dating counseling, or other services. Once you sign a contract with the dating service, you have three days after the date of rceipt of the written contract to terminate it without paying a cancellation fee.

If after you sign a contract, and the service requires payment of a total amount in excess of twenty-five dollars, the service must provide a specified number of social referrals per month. If the dating service does not provide the minimum number of referrals, as defined in your contract, for two or more consecutive months, you may cancel the contract. If you cancel the contract under that circumstance, the service is permitted to keep the greater of either 15% of all money paid under the contract or a pro rata amount for each referral. The remaining money must be returned to you within ten business days of the receipt of the cancellation.

New York law also permits you to place your membership on hold for up to one year, however, you and the dating service can agree to a longer suspension but a suspension cannot last for longer than two years. Your intent to exercise your right to suspend must from page 44

be given to the service in writing.

Private information is protected under this section of law as well. Unless you give express written consent, the service may not disclose your personal or private information such as answers to questionnaires, photographs, or background information. Upon termination of your contract, the service must promptly return all personal and private information to you by certified mail.

If you allow your heart to superseded your head and feel as if you were taken advantage of by a dating service, contact the New York Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-771-7755.

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