They say you can't buy love.
But, you may have to shell out a small fortune to get the help of a Milwaukee dating service called Great Expectations. And, if you're not prepared for their high-pressure sales pitch, you could end up spending thousands for a membership you never really wanted.
That's what Angie Malicki says happened to her.
"I actually just went in to see what it was all about," Malicki says.
She wasn't even sure she was ready to start dating again. Malicki had just come off her second failed marriage -- a 12-year relationship that ended with her husband walking out. Malicki says she was fragile. Vulnerable. A prime target for the high-pressure sales pitch.
"Considering my state of mind and what I was going through, he pressured me and took advantage of where I was at the time."
Are these just the bitter ramblings of a dating service dropout? Or is there something to Malicki's complaint?
We wanted to see for ourselves. So, The Investigators sent two producers into Great Expectations equipped with hidden cameras.
Our producers -- one man, one woman -- sat down with Great Expectations' "member representatives" to find out more about the service. What they got was a one-on-one hard sell that lasted almost two hours.
The pitch starts with puffery.
Saleswoman#1: "You'd definitely be successful here."
Saleswoman#2: "So, you don't have a problem with dating a lot of people? Cause that's the way it kinda happens."
Saleswoman#1: "You are a diamond in the rough."
Then quickly progresses into a barrage of deeply personal questions.
"How are you meeting men currently?"
"How long were you married?"
"Was he the first guy you were sexually involved with?"
"Who asked for the divorce?"
"When you were a child would you say dad was easy-going or quick tempered?"
"Was there any drinking in the house?"
"Were you ever teased?"
"Do you have children?"
"Have you started to feel like your clock is ticking a little bit?"
Just when you've poured out your heart, they turn up the heat.
"You know the methods you've been using aren't working, and they're not going to work tomorrow."
"I mean, you don't know a better way."
We showed the sales pitch to psychiatrist Dr. Carlyle Chan.
"It's very much of a psychological manipulation that's going on here," Dr. Chan says. "They're making you feel a little vulnerable. And then they take advantage of that vulnerability."
The "manipulation" is aimed at getting you to sign an expensive membership contract. How expensive? That's something Great Expectations goes to great lenghts NOT to tell you - until you're hooked.
Saleswoman#1: "Would you like to do this program?"
Fox 6 Investigators: "Well, what are the different price options?"
Saleswoman#1: "I do need to get your final approval on it before I can go through them with you."
And there's something else they want to know about you before they'll reveal their prices.
Saleswoman#1: "What would you guess you have in savings?"
Saleswoman#2: "And your checking?"
They want to know how much money you have.
Saleswoman#2: "The reason why we ask this is because we want to make sure that you're financially okay."
Great Expectations eventually tried to sell our undercover producers packages starting at $5,495. That's the "introductory" package. Other memberships cost even more.
If you think that sounds like a lot of money to commit to on the spur of the moment, you're not alone. Angie Malicki thought so, too.
"I told him I don't know how many times, I can't quite recall, but at least three times, that I can't afford this," she says. But, Malicki ulimately caved and signed a contract committing her to spend about $1,800.
One of our producers told Great Expectations she wasn't ready to sign up on the spot. But, the salesperson wouldn't let her get away that easily.
Fox 6 Producer: "I don't know if I'm ready to commit today. If I could have a night to sleep on it."
Saleswoman#1: "You know what, if it was up to me and unfortunately, I would love to let you, but what do you think is going to be different between today and tomorrow besides the price?"
That's right, there's a penalty for "thinking about it." In this case, Great Expectations told our producer she could get a 50% discount if - and only if - she signed up immediately. When the producer tried to walk out, the salesperson brought the price all the way down to $995.
"They have to close the sale while you're in the room," Dr. Chan says. "Or else you won't come back to do it."
Great Expectations is not the only dating service in Wisconsin to generate complaints. But, according to the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau, it has the most complaints in the state over the last three years.
In fact, that pattern of complaints is one reason the BBB says Great Expectations is no longer qualified to be one of its members. It had been a member in the past, though it is unclear who ended that relationship.
The staff of Great Expectations in Wauwatosa declined to comment, instead referring The Investigators to a company owner in Dallas. John Meriggi claims to be a principal of 23 Great Expectations centers across the country. There are about 60 in all.
Meriggi declined an on-camera interview. He also chose not to respond to an emailed list of specific questions. Meriggi would only say that his ownership group just took over the Milwaukee center a couple of months ago. He says they are concerned by what we found and says they are retraining their employees. When asked if the business practices would change in the future, Meriggi said "Absolutely."
If you are considering joining a dating service, the Wisconsin Department of Trade, Agricultre and Consumer Protection wants you to know:
--State law gives you 72 hours to cancel a dating service contract for any reason.
--You must make the cancellation request in writing.
--The full price of membership must be disclosed.