Investment dating creates gray area for law enforcement

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Big money apps that some call glorified prostitution match older men willing to pay women's college tuition in exchange for companionship. (WLS)

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
Big money apps that some call glorified prostitution match older men willing to pay women's college tuition or underwrite their high-dollar lifestyles in exchange for companionship.

And some tell the I-Team that, many times, it's more than just a date.

Millions of young women, including 75,000 in Chicago, and men interested in financial dating are "seeking sugar" on a handy app.

"I actually got my first arrangement really quick. He was a doctor. He was from a different state. He would fly me out there," said Sophie Delaney, a Seeking Arrangement member.

Delaney, which is her web name on the site, is a 22-year-old Northeastern Illinois University student. She said most of her tuition has been covered by a "sugar daddy" she met through the app.

"I had made an account specifically from him, and he would just add money to the account," Delaney said.

Her family has never found out about her investment dating.

"Trading sex or companionship for money is as old as time," said Dr. Nancy Burgoyne of the Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Burgoyne, a licensed psychologist, said she believes people are using these types of sites to solve their problems, economic or psychological.

"You're in these relationships where there is a huge power differential," Burgoyne said. "You are trading what you bring to bear, which is you're hot, you're young, you're fun, with someone's financial power."

"One upside with this is the contract is really transparent, you're being more forward with what you're looking for and the other person knows where you stand. There can always be various hidden agendas," said David Klow from the Skylight Counseling Center.

Those secret motives are a growing concern to law enforcement.

"You still don't know what's in the back of their mind," said Cook County Sheriff Dep. Chief Mike Anton. "You still have to be careful when meeting on sites like that."

One California woman is serving six years in prison for the death of Google executive Forrest Hayes after the two met on Seeking Arrangement, prosecutors said.

"You can opt in for a background check service, so as a user you know that that person is relatively safe but it's really difficult to ultimately guarantee that somebody is crime free," said Brandon Wade, founder and CEO of Seeking Arrangement.

Seeking Arrangement's Facebook page posts articles on the best apps for sending money and gives tips on allowances, leading many to wonder if this is simply prostitution.

"There's a clear difference between having a sugar daddy versus a prostitute going out there working on an hourly basis sleeping with all kinds whether there is a sexual attraction or not," said Wade.

"On the site I've never had a guy straight forwardly tell me 'I want to have sex with you in return for something,' that's prostitution first and foremost," Delaney said.

"Is there prostitution going on that site? It's a possibility, you're talking about money. But it's kind of a gray area right now," Anton said.

The Seeking Arrangement website states it is not an escort service and does not support prostitution. Local law enforcement agencies told the I-Team they have not received any criminal complaints about the business.
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