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Impressed by this apparently rigorous approach, Ms Fontaine, 44, rang up to enquire about joining and a consultant invited her to an interview, not at the company’s registered offices in the City of London but at the Charing Cross Hotel on The Strand.‘I thought it was a bit strange but was quite happy because it was on my way home,’ says Ms Fontaine. She was given his email address and sent him a message. They emailed her some more details, for a man with a Persian-sounding name, who was 56 and worked in financial investments.

They met at 5pm in the upstairs bar and spent an hour and a half talking about what she wanted in a partner.‘I asked her about the sort of men they had on their books and she told me she had two men immediately in mind for me. I asked specifically if these men were looking for a quick fling or a long-term relationship and she said, “If they’re paying upwards of £500 for membership, then they’re looking for a relationship.” ’She then enquired about meeting Tim but was told that he was now in a relationship and had come off their books. A strange email exchange ensued in which he informed her in pidgin English that while he was ‘very happy and excited to meet a person of such attractive profile’, he was ‘only a novice in the single life’.

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Lisa Guennifa, associate director of Elect, said: ‘Alex was super-eager to be matched.

If you are 25 you can have two dates a week ,but when you are in your 40s with specific requirements it is more difficult.’Asked whether she accepted that while he may have paid another less upmarket agency a fee, that was not the same thing as having paid to join Elect, Ms Guennifa said: ‘We don’t judge people on their assets.’‘I don’t personally take credit for successful relationships between two people,’ she said.

‘I have messed up relationships myself and that wasn’t the fault of the friend who made the introduction.

Equally, if I am introduced to my partner by a friend I’m not going to be grateful to her for the rest of my life.’Ms Guennifa said she and other consultants had undertaken a four-month home course with a company whose name she could not recall – ‘it was called Infinite something’ – culminating in two weeks’ study at the London School of Economics, where they sat an examination.

It’s not a selling point, it’s just something I’ve done that means something to me.’Karen Mooney, press officer for the Association of British Introduction Agencies (ABIA), said: ‘People should check before they sign up to any dating agency to make sure it is a member of ABIA, which has a strict code of practice.’ Ms Mooney, who founded Sara Eden Personal Introductions in 1988, said: ‘Companies love to boast that they can do matchmaking but a dating agency is a complicated business.

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In further emails, she found out that he had only been divorced for two months.

An internet search turned up the equally worrying fact that he had recently changed his name and that several of his companies had been fined.

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