CLEVELAND — Internet dating websites have become a booming business, and a great way to meet a potential spouse.
Forty million Americans have tried online dating and 17 percent of marriages last year began on the Internet.
It’s a billion dollar industry with numerous dating websites designed to cater to just about everyone’s needs, from religious sites to those for people over 50.
But some of the fastest growing websites are for men looking for love – from women wanting money.
SugarDaddie.com, SeekingArrangement.com and SeekingMillionaire.com were all created by businessman Brandon Wade.
“Great business ideas come from your own pain in your own life,” said Wade. “So in my case, it was the fact that I was lonely and really wanted to find love.”
The self-described nerd says his websites level the playing field.
“The website offers me an opportunity to show off my charm and charisma, my humor,” said Wade.
And it does something else. It shows off his rather sizeable wallet.
Wade’s websites have over 1.7 million members worldwide with 70 percent of them here in the United States.
He says his websites are for wealthy men who want to find love and take care of the woman.
“Women who decided they want to be pampered and spoiled,” said Wade.
Spoiling includes everything from buying expensive presents to buying cars, paying rent to paying her college tuition.
Fox 8 News reporter Suzanne Stratford interviewed a local 20-year-old college student who asked to have her identity protected and wanted to be called Madison.
Madison listed all of the things she’s received from Sugar Daddies.
“Trips, fly you wherever, get your hotel, fine dining, dinners, buy you a dress for the event, buy you jewelry for the event, take you to your favorite stores, buy you whatever you want,” she said.
In return, she offers them companionship and says that’s all she gives them.
“Some guys are like, ‘I’m not giving you anything until you give me sex.’ I’m like, ‘No way. What are you talking about?! This is not an escort service,’” said Madison.
However, she says there are also many gentlemen, like a local successful businessman we’ll call Joe.
“Sure, I can find people,” said Joe. “But it’s easier. It’s just better use of my time.”
Joe says he tried traditional dating sites, but found them difficult to navigate.
Plus he says the girls are prettier on SugarDaddie.com and SeekingArrangement.com.
“On this site, 90 percent of the girls are all really attractive,” said Joe.
The young 30-something bachelor has taken the girls shopping and to nice dinners.
He says he isn’t materialistic so he enjoys spending his money and making the girls happy.
“It’s really fun,” said Joe.
The service is free for Sugar Babies, but men like Joe can pay about $50 per month.
Wade is also introducing new software to enable members to do background checks and also to prevent people from misrepresenting their looks.
But even with that added technology, does Joe worry at all about gold diggers? And is he concerned that women only want him for his money?
Joe said, “There’ve been people who have contacted me saying, ‘I’m really desperate I’ll do anything, I just need some money,’ and I just delete them and even report them to the site.”
Board certified psychologist Dr. Lori Stevic-Rust researched the websites.
She said, “My first reaction as a mother is panic.”
The Willoughby Ph.D. was struck by the fact that most of the men were in the 50-60 age group but the average age of the women was 19-21.
“It can be creepy and uncomfortable at first but if the guy’s nice it’s not that weird. It’s kind of like shopping with your dad,” Madison said of the age difference.
That comment did not sit well with Dr. Stevic-Rust. “It’s really about a very different power differential and that worries me,” she said.
Dr. Stevic-Rust also isn’t comfortable with the importance placed on money.
“The majority of people on an exit interview said if you didn’t have the money I wouldn’t be interested in you to begin with and men saying if you weren’t young and pretty I wouldn’t want you,” said Dr. Stevic-Rust. “Which raises that red flag, is this just a fancy version of prostitution?”
Lawyers in North Carolina asked that same question about the websites.
An investigation couldn’t prove anything illegal.
However, whether or not it’s “ethical” is up to each person to decide for themselves.
But Wade doesn’t think his websites are any different than countless books like “Fifty Shades of Grey,” or movies like “Cinderella” or “Pretty Woman” where a wealthy man rescues a poorer woman and then buys her a lot of presents.
“Most people want to grow up and meet a successful guy who wants to take care of them,” Wade said.
He says several couples have gotten married and so did he last February.
Dr. Stevic-Rust can’t comment on Wade’s marriage, but says real storybook endings are based on integrity, common interests and true love.
“This kind of relationship, I think you’d have a lot of work to do before you could be a successful relationship,” said Dr. Stevic-Rust.
But Joe and Madison aren’t worried, and both plan to keep using the websites.
“For me it’s mostly exploratory. I’m still pretty young,” said Joe.
“I’m in it for the money,” added Madison.