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Dating Service Goes Public

WWW- It was early Wednesday evening when Carmen Electra called.

She cooed a sultry hello. She started to talk about dating.

I quickly pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

And then, the former “Baywatch” babe said two words that really turned me on: “Publicly traded.”

A few seconds later, it was all over. When Carmen’s pitch for a new online dating site finished, the pre-recorded message cut off, leaving me all hot and bothered, the way I usually get when I come in contact with a Stupid Investment of the Week.

Luvoo.com is a dating Web site that says it combines modern matchmaking methods with old-fashioned face-to-face meetings to determine compatibility. But the site’s current focus seems to be about its stock: The most prominent feature on its Web site is a bad head shot of Electra over the words “Newly publicly traded!”

Actually, Electra’s choice of words might be the first danger sign. It’s not that there aren’t publicly traded companies trying to rule the dating world; it’s just that you’re seeing a scary movie when Electra includes a stock’s trading status in a talk about matchmaking. That doesn’t happen without a script.

Luvoo trades on the so-called pink sheets, which is a centralized quotation service that collects and distributes market-maker prices for securities traded in the over-the-counter market. While there are many fine companies that trade this way, and plenty of investors who profit from trading in these issues, they are not the domain for average investors. Many firms on the pink sheets do not file regulatory paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Luvoo is so new that investors won’t find any meaningful numbers.

So, then, it’s time to look at the business model and see if it works.

It’s hard to divine too much about how the company intends to make money because Luvoo officials did not return my calls and Electra’s representatives did not return e-mails requesting information on Carmen’s relationship with Luvoo.

But the firm has issued a press release virtually every day since it went public on June 9, and those say that Luvoo’s “strategy for growth is through celebrity endorsement, aggressive large-scale advertising, affiliate business opportunities and patent-pending concepts and technology.”

Although some industry watchers see a bevy of press releases as a warning flag, they should not be a deal-breaker.

It’s the content of Luvoo’s press releases that is worrisome. Management talks about being “honored” as the featured stock at sites like WallStreet7.com or IPOmovers.com. Anyone checking those sites finds out that they are paid marketing conduits.

“Normally, a legitimate company does not need to put out press releases saying `Joe Blow, or Joe Blow’s Web site, has recommended the stock,'” says John Buckingham, editor of the Prudent Speculator newsletter. “You want a start-up company worrying about building the business more than it worries about pumping up the stock price. If they make things happen in business, the stock price takes care of itself.”

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