MyLife.com, a social-networking website that says it helps old friends reconnect, has been labeled as a "scam" in a lawsuit that claims it tells people "someone" is searching for them, then charges them for "a list of fake names." The site has now tried unsuccessfully to have the suit quashed, though lawyers for both sides said the case is in its early stages.
The class-action suit, filed in February in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., accuses MyLife of luring people to pay $7.95 for membership to find out who may be looking them up, then charging $100 or more to their credit cards.
"It gets worse," said the suit. "Victims of the ruse then find that MyLife hacks into their address books to target their friends, family and other contacts with spam solicitations stating that 'someone' is looking for them."
MyLife, along with its executives and investors, moved to have the suit dismissed, but District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled this week the suit can go forward, though only against the website and not, for now, against the individuals. The case has now been combined with a second, similar complaint. The next hearing is Sept. 1.
"Clearly the case is without merit," said Jeffrey Tinsley, CEO and founder of MyLife, in a telephone interview.
"We've been in business nine years, and we're proud of the service we offer," he said. "We wouldn't benefit from fake searches. We'd just get a lot of people angry."
MyLife's homepage is dominated by a bright green box: "See Who's Searching For You." In it, you can enter your name, age and ZIP code to "find out instantly," though before it gives you any results, it takes you to a new page, inviting you to enter your email address and "get alerts for new searches on your name."
The site also features "success stories" from members who found relatives or long-lost friends.
"Without MyLife.com we would both still be alone and sad," says a woman quoted as finding her best childhood friend after 20 years. "Now we laugh every night."
The complaint paints a very different picture.
"MyLife.com is a scam that begins with a false solicitation telling potential victims that 'someone' is searching for them, and they can find out who by paying a small fee," the suit said.
It added that users do not realize they are signing up for long-term subscriptions.
"We want the money back, and we want them to stop sending out those phony solicitations," said Scott Bursor of the law firm of Bursor and Fisher, which filed the complaint. "People sign up, pay the money, [and it] turns out nobody's looking for them."
Tinsley replied, "The attorneys are trying to take advantage of a good business."
He denied the hacking charge, saying, "It's impossible to look into anyone's address book with any authentication." And he said the site is clear about its subscription fees.
MyLife said in a news release that it has more than 60 million registered members, and "finds itself only behind industry giants: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn." It said unique visitor traffic grew 20 percent in July.