Next time you see photographers taking pictures of a languid, bikini-clad woman posing in the surf, realize something. Those photos are worth a lot of money.
Especially if they materialize on more than 200 fake Match.com profiles managed by con men operating in internet cafés from Nigeria to Russia, according to a $1.5 billion federal lawsuit that bikini model Yuliana Avalos has filed against the online matchmaking conglomerate.
Even more so, says the onetime Miami Beach resident who has since moved to Palm Bay, if those pictures killed someone.
In 2011, Avalos got a phone call from ABC reporter Chris Cuomo, who'd been working on an authoritative account of the Match.com scam artists. According to the Daily News, he told her some of those men had used her images, collected from her modeling site and Facebook, to bolster fake profiles to con thousands of lonely men out of money.
One of those men, Avalos soon realized, was a New Yorker named Al Circelli, who killed himself in 2010 after losing $50,000 to the scam. Over the course of one year, he'd corresponded with a woman who called herself "Aisha" and told Circelli she needed money to settle some expenses in Ghana so she could unite with the divorced Circelli.
Circelli stopped making his mortgage payments, took out credit cards in his son's name, and kept feeding "Aisha" money. the reward was more pictures of Avalos. The day the New Yorker shot himself, he thought he was going to meet "Aisha," who was due to fly into New York that day.
Avalos, who's never been a member of Match.com, soon learned this horrifying account wasn't an aberration. Nearly 200 other profiles had also used her likeness in fake schemes. Now she blames Match.com.
"Unknown thousands or millions of [Match.com's] members subscribe to this website in hopes of meeting [Avalos]," the class action lawsuit says. "The tragedy of this case is two-fold. The victims [are] mostly widows, widowers, and divorcés aged 50 and over who have been defrauded out of hundreds of millions of dollars over the past six years through fraudulent dating profiles on [Match.com.]"
Avalos says Match.com is culpable because it doesn't use "facial recognition software," which she claims would root out all fraudulent profiles and stolen photographs.
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With that, it could have "easily and inexpensively stopped these illegal practices," her lawsuit says.
Send your story tips to the author, Terrence McCoy.