Dating agency stung clients

A TWEED dating agency which duped lonely hearts in rural Australia with promises of love has been ordered to repay clients $120,000. Thirty-five former members of online matchmaking service Rural Network will receive compensation after the Federal Court last week found the company had engaged in deceptive conduct. The court heard Rural Network enticed potential members with newspaper advertisements with fabricated images of attractive women looking for love, including "Spellbinding Laura" and "Every Man's Dream, Celeste". It was revealed vulnerable men in rural Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, were prised of their money and asked to provide their financial details for the privilege of meeting the women. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) initiated court action against Rural Network and its Gold Coast-based director Leanne McDonald three years ago following complaints about the agency's conduct. The ads were subsequently found to be fakes. Finding in favour of the ACCC, Federal Court judge Jeffrey Spender described the agency's actions as "calculated and quite callous". The court imposed seven-year restrictions on the way Rural Network and Ms McDonald advertise and supply match-making services. In addition to refunding clients, Justice Spender also ordered Rural Network to pay $60,000 in legal costs to the ACCC. ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said the agency had deliberately preyed on vulnerable people in rural Australia where options for meeting people are more%limited. "It was certainly predatory in nature," said Mr Samuels of the agency's conduct. Ms McDonald's Brisbane-based lawyers were not available for comment yesterday. Rural Network's website has since been de-activated.



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