Video Dating: Let the Buyer Beware

SINGLE AFTER A DIFFICULT divorce, Sally Randall (not her real name) wanted to date again, but was worried about sharing personal information with men she didn’t know. Then she heard about the Great Expectarions video daring service-the ’90s version of safe sex. A subsidiary of Dallas-based Great Southern Video, Inc., the company has 51 branch offices in major American cities and Mexico City. Its infomercials claim Great Expectations is the “world’s oldest and largest video introduction service” and promise that “at Great Expectations, you know everything about [dates] up front.”

Well, not everything. After being verbally assured that Great Expectations carefully screened out “undesirables,” the 41-year-old Dallasite paid $2,500 in December 1992 to sign up with the Dallas office of Great Expectations. On March 15, 1993, Randall met Travis Dean Crawford, 46, another GE client, when he chose her video.

Crawford certainly seemed like a man of high moral character: His profile sheet showed he had been a Green Beret in Vietnam, a military instructor at West Point, a graduate with bachelor’s and law degrees from Northwestern University, a former 1RS agent, and an employee of the Small Business Administration. After a whirlwind courtship that lasted a month-he said his religious beliefs precluded their living together-Randall married Crawford. But after only lour months of marriage, her new husband was arrested by the Secret Service, and Randall found out to her shock that almost nothing she believed about Crawford was true. As a result, she is seeking damages in a lawsuit against the during service.

What Great Expectations did not find out in its ’”screening” of Crawford was that he had a long string of aliases and had been married not once, as he had said on his profile, but four times. He had dropped out of the ninth grade and falsified his college transcripts. An 1RS agent trainee, he had been forced out after six months when it was discovered he falsified government forms to get the job. The same thing happened with the S.B.A. job.

Though Crawford claimed he was wounded fighting valiantly as a Green Beret in Vietnam, his military record shows he was actually an Army cook at Fort Stewart, Ga., during the war. In 1985, he was court-martialed by the Army in Germany forgoing AWOL and passing 143 bad checks totaling $52,593 on a world-wide spending spree. He was sentenced to five years in Leavenworth Prison and dishonorably discharged.

Crawford pleaded guilty in late 1993 to federal charges of credit-card fraud and making false statements to a government agency. After serving 16 months in federal prison he was released.

In her court filings (she declined to be interviewed),.Randall, who obtained an annulment after Crawford’s arrest, claims that during the four months they were married, he spent all her life savings and ran up substantial debts in her name, a loss totalling more than $200,000. Her lawsuit against Great Expectations alleges the company engaged in deceptive trade practices by leading her to believe that its screening process eliminated people like Crawford from its database.

Attorneys for the company have filed a general denial in the lawsuit, which has been set for trial this month. They’re sure to point out that Randall signed a contract acknowledging that GE “makes no representations or warranties” that the information provided by clients is accurate. In other words, let the dater beware.

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