An 87-year-old man has been charged $974 by a lonely hearts agency for the names of up to six women he could call for possible romance.
Tom (Clifford) Pulham spotted an item headed "Find love now" in the Northern Advocate classifieds three weeks ago and contacted the Australian-based Bridges introduction agency to meet his "dream lover".
He said he had been lonely since his wife of more than 64 years, Viola, died in 2011, and their four children had long gone from the family's home in Onerahi.
Bridges sent Mr Pulham a list of joining options, which started at A$790 ($974) for a "basic" membership, rising to A$28,990 ($36,696) for the "VIP platinum" membership.
The "basic" member is referred to one person to meet every four to six weeks, for six months.
Bridges' official Joanne Darby yesterday said a member in this category could expect four to six referrals for the fee.
VIP platinum members receiving "the ultimate service for the very fussiest of clients" would have a personal consultant, their introductions would be approved by a managing consultant, they would have a social secretary option and referrals would continue for three years.
Mr Pulham, who retired from driving bulldozers and cranes in 1988 and lives on a pension, signed up for a basic membership on May 25.
He then took a 75-year-old Whangarei woman, whom he said "seemed nice", to dinner but she wanted to meet someone younger than him.
Also, Bridges required her to pay a $400 membership fee to meet him and when Mr Pulham heard the agency offered her a complimentary meeting, he suspected that bill might come back to him.
Ms Darby said Mr Pulham was on the phone the next day, seeking another contact.
He then met a Maungatapere woman and the pair seemed to hit it off, but then arrangements to meet up fell through.
Mr Pulham asked the agency for a third contact and was put in touch with another Whangarei woman, but nothing came of his call to her.
Ms Darby said Mr Pulham had upgraded his basic membership on June 3 by requesting more referrals than the one he was to get every four to six weeks.
The introduction agency was an "emotionally based" business in which clients remained disappointed until they met the right person, she said.
"People probably need to meet a few people before they find someone they want to be their future partner." Ms Darby said the women Mr Pulham called could have paid more or less than him for membership.
Mr Pulham then instructed his bank to stop Bridges from accessing his credit card after he was charged $974 for his basic membership.
When he got an account for a further $500 yesterday, he said he called the agency to tell them he wanted nothing more to do with them.
"The woman who answered the phone said 'Fine' and hung up, so I suppose they are happy with what they got off me," Mr Pulham said.
He said he was afraid of being ribbed about signing up with Bridges, but wanted to warn others about the high price the agency put on ending loneliness.
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