Mary Kane, an 85-year-old widow, said she felt lonely last month when she contacted Philadelphia Singles, a matchmaking service, seeking a companion after her husband died in May.

The King of Prussia-based dating firm told her they had wonderful men in mind for her, Kane said — if she paid $7,000. The price shocked Kane, but she said she was pressured into signing the contract on Oct. 2 after the sum was cut to $4,750.

"They said: 'If you walk out of here, that's it. You can't have second thoughts and come back and sign up,'" said Kane, who believed the firm did not come close to living up to its offer. "I think they're just taking advantage of people like me, who are thinking they're lonely."

Kane, of Chester Springs, was promised a refund after the Inquirer and Daily News asked about her case. The owner of Philadelphia Singles, a California man named Toros Yetenekian, said through a lawyer that he was unaware of Kane's file and would provide her a full refund. He declined further comment.

Kane isn't the first to accuse Philadelphia Singles and its affiliates of bad business practices.

In 2014, three of Yetenekian's companies, including one that owns Philadelphia Singles, agreed to pay $22,000 under a settlement with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, which accused the matchmakers of misleading consumers with false membership numbers and a "100 percent marriage guarantee." The attorney general said the companies also operated under several unregistered business names.

In 2016, the Better Business Bureau received a "pattern of complaints" about Philadelphia Singles, alleging that the matchmaking firm used "high pressure and intimidating sales tactics" and connected consumers to people who did not meet their requested criteria. Customers also reported difficulty obtaining refunds.

Yetenekian owns dating services across the country that have also drawn the ire of consumers, including Cherry Hill-based South Jersey Matchmakers, which the Better Business Bureau has singled out for complaints.

The $4,750 that Kane paid may seem expensive, especially when compared with such online dating websites as Match.com, which charges $20.99 a month for a year. But industry experts said $5,000 is actually on the low end for matchmaking services, which can cost $10,000 to $100,000.

Matchmakers typically screen other members to find potential matches based on criteria that a client is looking for, such as a certain height, education level or interests. Matchmakers also offer coaching and feedback for dating. Higher-quality matchmakers will go "out of network" to find potential partners who aren't already clients.

"It's almost like hiring a personal assistant for your love life, where you're really getting coaching along the way and hand-holding, and you're really being understood without being judged and you're guided in the right direction," said Lisa Clampitt, founder of the Matchmaking Institute in New York City, which trains matchmakers and teaches ethical practices.

Common warning signs of a bad matchmaking service include overpromising dates at the outset and offering to reduce the price if you sign up that day, Clampitt said.

Those experts said Philadelphia Singles probably shouldn't have signed up an 85-year-old widow for matchmaking services, or at least made it clear that it would be difficult to find a man near her age.

"Generally speaking, women over 60 are demographically, statistically at odds with both matchmaking and dating," said Mark Brooks, chief executive of the Internet Dating Excellence Association. "At this kind of price point and for her demographic, it's an impossible job. They have no business taking her on."

“They said: ‘If you walk out of here, that’s it. You can’t have second thoughts and come back and sign up,’” said Kane, who paid $4,750 to join Philadelphia Singles, a matchmaking company.
ERIN BLEWETT / Staff Photographer
“They said: ‘If you walk out of here, that’s it. You can’t have second thoughts and come back and sign up,’” said Kane, who paid $4,750 to join Philadelphia Singles, a matchmaking company.

Kane said she was told to bring a credit card and multiple forms of identification to her in-person meeting at Philadelphia Singles. She was unable to get a refund for more than a week, and said she was instead offered to meet an 81-year-old electrician from Wayne who didn't have a college education, even though she had asked for highly educated men. She turned down the offer.

Kane's contract guaranteed her seven introductions and included a no-refund policy. It noted that a customer's preferences for a partner are only "used as a guidance" for introductions. Philadelphia Singles does not provide customers pictures of potential partners before introductions, according to the agreement.

Those who filed complaints against Philadelphia Singles through the Better Business Bureau reported similar stories.

"It was a high-pressure situation. I was not allowed to think about it. I had to make a decision on the spot or I wouldn't be able to contact them in the future," an anonymous consumer wrote in May.

Philadelphia Singles responded to the complaint through the bureau's website by noting that "she could have left at her own free will."

"Anyone can say they are ready to date, but only few can prove to us they are truly ready. People who aren't ready will say it's high pressure. People who are ready actually appreciate why we do what we do," the firm wrote.

In September 2017, a consumer said she "paid $3,300 to be matched with men who were physically unfit, had injuries, one had a girlfriend, another was a felon, and the last one was only wanted [sic] and looking for sex."

In its response, Philadelphia Singles didn’t address whether it matched the consumer with a felon, but said the upset customer was using the business as a “punching bag.”