Supermodel Scam

Reporter: David Richardson

Online matchmaking is a $150 million industry. It's notoriously plagued
by unscrupulous operators, out to con those looking for a perfect match.

Now Jennifer Hawkins, along with other top Australian models, are being
used in their scams.

She's one of the most recognised faces on the planet. For any man one
date with her is a dream come true but that's exactly what it is - a
pipe dream, nothing more than a scam but it's being sold to the unwary.

"I've heard that my photo is being distributed around in a way that I
didn't know about" says Jen.

With the fame that comes from being a former Miss Universe, Jennifer
Hawkins is used to seeing her picture everywhere including the internet.

But not as bait on dating websites.

"When your photo is out there and it is on the web it can be used by
whoever and whatever company wants to use it" says Jen.

And she's not alone. Trawl the hundreds of internet matchmaking sites
and you soon come across a raft of famous faces being used as honeypots.
Everyone from Australian model Kristy Hinze, to superstar Beyonce, a
young Heidi Klum, 90's supermodel Niki Taylor, and Ugly Betty actress
Rebecca Romijan - all used to front bogas profiles.

It's hard to believe this con works. But the bulk of these scam sites
are run from Eastern Europe targeting lonely Australian men. Cashing in
on a client's gullibility that these famous women are in fact available.

"If I was a male member and I responded to Jennifer Hawkins and thought
she was going to be the one that I was going to meet out for dinner or
coffee of course it would be disappointing but this is not just about
celebrities it can be regular pictures" says Hanna.

Stolen identities and fake profiles are not limited to overseas sites.

Hanna Schwartz is Managing Director of RSVP.com. Australia's largest
online dating service is constantly forced to monitor its member
profiles.

"We have ways to tell if it is real or fake and then we have a whole
watch list of pictures ... so right away we look at that picture and
then we vet it against our watch list" adds Hanna.

And it's not just celebrity images being ripped off. Candy is a legal
secretary and part time model. She was horrified to find her pictures
selling escort services.

"How people can steal your identity and say that you are something that
you are not and also steal your photograph and make money from it?" asks
Candy.

It's something Jen is reluctantly resigned to. "You can't really do
anything about it."

"We've had 79 complaints in one particular year but I'm sure alot of
other people have been burnt and have been too embarrassed to come to
us." Fair Trading Commissioner Lyn Baker has re-issued warnings to
consumers about these dating scams.

"Well some of the complaints are about dates not materialising and
people having to pay extra for additional services so when you're
looking at the deal find out what you get for the base price and then
find out if you have to pay any more money to get other services" says
Lyn.

It's bad enough that the internet is almost impossible to police, added
to that in the dating industry there are virtually no rules. Agencies
don't need registration or a licence so anything goes. Take TLC
Consulting Services, a company that promised dates but never delivered
as Today Tonight discovered.

Now TLC's in court again this time being sued by an unemployed, mentally
disabled man.

Reality shows like "A Farmer Wants a Wife", opened up rural areas to
rogue operators. Rural Network - just one introduction agency cashing
in on taking lonely country boys for a ride. They were ordered to repay
more than $118,000 to 35 victims.

"Yes I do believe that dating agencies target farmers because they see
us as a soft target because we are lonely in the bush." It broke dairy
farmer Nevil Honey's heart and his wallet. "Through dating agencies at
this stage I estimate I have probably lost around the vicinity of
$17,000."

"Often with matters of the heart people believe at face what they are
seeing" says Lyn. "A wise person once told me that love and money
should be married with caution and I certainly agree with that."