The Federal Court has ordered a dating agency specialising in introductions for farmers to refund almost $120,000 to 35 men it deceived in their search for companionship.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission obtained the orders against Rural Network and its director, Leanne McDonald, after investigating the agency and finding that it routinely lied and misled clients about prospective romantic interests.
Rural Network describes itself on its website as catering for “busy country people who have lost all hope in the dating scene and just want to find a person to share their life with and find happiness”.
The ACCC’s investigation found that the 35 men had all paid registration fees to Rural Network because they were given the impression that the agency had female clients eager to meet them.
However, to persuade potential male clients to register or upgrade their package, Rural Network staff simply invented female clients, or if a client did exist, she had expressed no interest in meeting with the man in question.
Rural Network also placed ads in regional newspapers and magazines containing made-up profiles of women to induce country men to register with their agency.
In granting the reimbursement orders against the agency and its director, Federal Court Justice Spender described the agency’s conduct as “not only serious but calculated and quite callous”.
The orders further limit the manner in which Rural Network and McDonald can advertise and supply introduction services for the next seven years.
This is the second time that McDonald has been investigated by the ACCC. She was the director of another rural introductions agency, Country Contact Club, that was found to have engaged in similarly misleading conduct in 2005.