By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida woman has filed a $1.5 billion class-action lawsuit against online dating site Match.com, alleging the website allowed photos of her and thousands of others to be used illegally to create phony profiles intended to dupe romantic hopefuls out of money.
The website "conspired with criminals operating from locations including Internet cafes in Nigeria, Ghana and Russia" who created fake profiles for romance "scams," according to the lawsuit which was filed last week.
The suit also says that Match.com, owned by media mogul Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp, was aware of the fake profiles as the company approves, edits and posts each profile.
"The real scam here is this meritless lawsuit, which is filled with outlandish conspiracy theories and clumsy fabrications in lieu of factual or legal basis," a sposkesman for Match.com said in an emailed statement. "We're confident that our legal system is as adept as we are at detecting scammers and will dismiss this case in short order."
Match.com is one of a stable of dating websites owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp, which also owns content hubs like Vimeo.com.
Match.com was "unjustly enriched" by the publication "of thousands if not millions of unauthorized photographs" the lawsuit argues.
"Not a day goes by when someone doesn't tell me that they saw my pictures posted on Match.com or another website," Yuliana Avalos, a part-time model who is the lead plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement.
"Virtually all of this criminal activity can be eliminated with the introduction of free software to the defendants' website," said New York attorney Evan Spencer, who filed the suit.
"All IAC has to do is screen international IP addresses from posting domestic profiles in the United States, and the vast majority of fake profiles would be eliminated."
The suit also alleges that Match doesn't use facial recognition technology, which Spencer used in his investigation, to spot phony profiles and doesn't police existing profiles to root out scammers.
Nearly 200 photos of Avalos, many of her clad in a bikini posing on the beach, were found in Match profiles, according to Spencer. Pictures of more than 3,000 people, including celebrities, soldiers and Facebook users, were illegally used and disbursed in millions of daily emails to promote niche dating sites based around interests ranging from race to age to political persuasion.
Match.com has been the target of several suits in recent years over false profiles. The website launched in 1995 and claims to have millions of members in 24 countries.
In 2012 a Texas federal judge dismissed a case that argued the company duped consumers into believing it had millions of subscribers when more than half were inactive, fake or scammers.
"The language of the agreements in no way requires Match.com to police, vet, update the website content" or verify the accuracy of profiles on the site, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay wrote.
(Yuliana Avalos et al v. IAC/InterActiveCorp., Match.com LLC and People Media LLC, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, 13-cv-8351)
(Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman)