Online dating firm denies creating profiles to tempt clients
One of Britain's biggest online dating providers has denied creating user profiles on its websites to entice new customers to sign up.
Surfers using the sites run by Edinburgh-based Cupid Plc - which include cupid.com, benaughty.com and flirt.com - told the BBC they received flirtatious messages but failed to get dates.
They said they had lots of messages when they signed up to the sites as free users, but when they paid up, interest rapidly tailed off.
Cupid Plc's Chairman, Bill Dobbie, said it had about 500 "staff profiles" on its websites - but he insisted they were used for moderating chat rooms and forums - and to root out scammers.
The BBC spoke to 11 users of Cupid Plc's sites, who said they suspected that many of the 'daters' they heard from might not be genuine.
When 5live Investigates signed up to the site to test the system, it had the same experience.
The sites allow users to register for free, but in order to reply to a message from another member they have to pay a fee.
Will from Berkshire, who asked to be identified only by his first name, registered with a Cupid website called datetheuk.com as a free member - and immediately found he was popular.
"It started with 'winks' and proceeded to chat messages - innocent messages. A very attractive woman purporting to live nearby messaged me, but I couldn't respond unless I paid," he said. "So I joined up, but then the communications ceased. I did wonder if it was an automated response from the company to entice people like me to sign up."
Jean Bayou, from Staines, West London, said he bought a subscription to cupid.com after getting divorced. He received several messages - but once he had paid to reply he did not hear from the senders again.
"It seemed like the people concerned weren't genuinely seeking dates," he said. "They didn't seem like genuine people to me."
Jean also received a series of text messages from a woman calling herself 'Anne.' He realised belatedly that for each text he received or sent he was charged £1.50 by Cupid plc.
Andrew, from Wales - who did not want his surname used - said that as a 57 year-old he was surprised when a number of young, attractive women contacted him via cupid.com.
When he checked their details, though, he discovered three of them claimed to be from the Swansea Enterprise Park - an industrial zone.
"I did start to wonder if they might be posted by the company to keep me interested," he said. "I felt there was something funny going on."
Cupid Plc has been seen as a City success story. It was floated on the AIM stock market in 2010, and in 2011 it was named as Scotland's fastest-growing technology business by the accountancy firm Deloitte.
The company says its web platform supports more than 84 million user accounts and has more than 800,000 users online each day. Its users live in 58 different countries, and its message system handles almost 200 million messages each day.
Mr Dobbie categorically denied the company sent communications in order to tempt free members to pay subscriptions. "If any customers have any specific concerns, they should contact me or my customer service team directly," he said.
He added the company was working hard to eradicate non-genuine users, many of whom aimed to extract money from web-surfers.
"I am particularly grateful for the BBC raising the issue of scammers in this industry and hopefully, with your assistance, we can try to eradicate this scamming practice," he said.
The company said it did inform members of its charges for text messages.