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Cinderella

Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

  

Unethical Agency Dealings

Most of the warnings on the Internet report unscrupulous girls who are only interested in getting their hands on your money.  However, this is a (true) story with a difference – it is about an unscrupulous agency – and hopefully it will serve as a warning to all those who read it.

A few months ago I decided to delve into the world of Internet marriage agencies.  I did the usual searches and settled on what appeared to be an international agency with thousands of girls on its books.  Like many others, through this agency I initially wrote to quite a few girls whose profiles interested me and subsequently struck up an accord with a small number.  I learned that the site through which I was corresponding was in effect an intermediary and almost all the girls are on the books of local agencies who syndicate the details to larger Internet sites.  Anyway, I was particularly taken by one young lady called Oksana and I was communicating with her through the international agency site at the cost of $10 per exchange.  Out of the blue I received an email from the manager of her local agency called Cinderella (http://www.cinderella.dp.ua) suggesting that I can write to Oksana directly through them at half this price and if I sent them some money they would create an account for me and the service could begin.

After a brief email exchange to establish the parameters I sent Cinderella US$75.  In the meantime I had begun to talk to Oksana on the telephone and the frequency of our correspondence had increased.  This led to an arrangement for me to fly out to meet her and her family, and the agency offered to help with the local arrangements, including airport transfers and the like, which I gratefully accepted.

I arrived in Oksana’s home city of Dnepropetrovsk in mid August and everything went swimmingly.  Oksana and I clicked immediately and after a couple of days in an hotel her family insisted that I stayed with them.  An invitation like this is a rare honour and one that I was delighted to accept.  As ever, Cinderella was helpful and they were on hand to be of assistance.

Anyway, Oksana and I decided that we definitely wanted to see each other again and it would be wonderful if she could come to London to stay a while with me and see how we got on in my home environment.  But there were a couple of obstacles, namely that she did not have a passport for international travel let alone a visa and she was keen to improve her English language skills to enhance our communications.  Cinderella said that they could help with these things and could also arrange driving lessons, a gift I wanted to give Oksana.

So on the day I was leaving I handed over around US$400 in cash to Andrey and Anna, the owner and manager respectively of Cinderella, with a clear understanding that they would use these funds for the purposes intended.

After my return home, Oksana embarrassingly explained to me that the English lessons that she (and her sister) were receiving were not good and also that she did not want to use the driving school proposed by Cinderella because it was a long way from her home.  She said that she had found a better school for English and a much more convenient driving school.  She was very concerned about suggesting a change and was worried that I would be unhappy – typical of her warm nature.

I immediately contacted Cinderella and told them to cancel the English lessons and not to book the driving school.  I said that I would pay for the lessons received to-date but please could they give the unused balance of the funds to Oksana so that she can apply them against the costs of the places of her choice or pay these schools directly.  Incredibly, the next I heard was that Anna (from Cinderella) had turned up at Oksana’s home and tried to pressure her to continue with their English lessons and told her that their teacher was still going to come and give them regardless.  When I later spoke with Oksana on the telephone she was quite upset and a little frightened by this pressure.  I immediately contacted Cinderella and told them that the lessons were to be cancelled and to please refund all the unused funds.

In due course I received a response saying that they had made all the arrangements I had requested when I was in town and as I had chosen to cancel them that was my problem and they were not refunding any money.

I was furious and reminded the owner, Andrey, that the English lessons were cancelled because of their poor quality and the driving lessons because Oksana simply wanted to use another more local school.  Anyway, it seemed pointless trying to deal with this issue by email so, as I was returning to Dnepropetrovsk in a few days to spend a long weekend with Oksana and her family, we could discuss the matter face-to-face.  This is what we did and here is the reaction I received from Andrey and Anna – a salutory lesson to anyone who falls into the trap of trusting a local agency,  especially Cinderella, with advance funding:

Driving lessons: I was informed that the school that Oksana did not want to attend had already been paid by them; I knew this to be a lie because Oksana had accompanied Anna on the visit to this school who had told them that they did not require payment until the lessons began and I had cancelled the arrangement weeks before this event.  So I suggested that Andrey gives me a copy of the receipt for Oksana’s lessons which she would use when presenting herself to the school to begin her course and, surprise, surprise, there is no receipt (yeah, right: go pay for a course of lessons and then turn up a couple of months later and hope that someone remembers you).  But if Andrey wanted to play that game so can I: I asked him for the phone number of the school so that Oksana could call and verify that they had received payment for her lessons, in which case I would not chase him for these funds.  Oh no, he said, we can’t give you the phone number because we don’t want you to make a fuss and ask for a refund!  To which I reminded him that it was my money and I simply wanted confirmation of payment, and besides, as the lessons had allegedly been paid for Oksana is entitled to contact the school.  But no dice.  Conclusion: the school has of course never been paid and Andrey simply pocketed the US$120.

English lessons: I had given Andrey US$150 in cash for 20 hours of private tuition for Oksana and her sister in 13 lessons over one month and if this went well then I would replenish this sum.  After two lessons Oksana was unhappy with the standard of the teaching and after three she shyly told me it was a waste of money and she would much rather go to an established school for English that she had found herself (and which I have since visited).  As I explained above, I cancelled the lessons and I told Andrei that as around a quarter of the time had been expended (albeit unsuccessfully) he only needed to return US$115 (rounded down to US$100 for his troubles).  Response: no way – I had paid in advance and that was my problem, never mind that the quality of the teaching was appalling.  When I asked if he had paid the teacher for the whole month (I knew he had not) he refused to tell me.  I reminded Andrey that he had promised me that if we were not happy we could stop the teaching but at this stage he was suffering from a memory lapse.

Passport: I had given Andrey US$100 to cover the costs of obtaining Oksana’s passport.  She told me that this had actually cost US$60 in fees which she saw Anna from Cinderella pass over when they went together to make the application.  Amusingly, Anna did not even offer to pay for Oksana’s photos despite my having given Cinderella the funds to cover all the expenses.  When I asked Andrey for the balance of my unused funds back as the figure he had given me was an estimate and it turned out had not been used in full he refused.  I reminded him that I had agreed to send him more funds if the total cost had exceeded US$100 and I expected him to honour the reciprocal arrangement of refunding the surplus but I was told that this was “not how business is done in the Ukraine”.

Agency costs: I still had a US$45 balance with Cinderella but they told me that I could only use this to correspond with other girls on their books “once my relationship with Oksana failed”.  This left me speechless – having brokered the introduction, correspondence and first meeting they now told me that my relationship with her was pointless and I should come to their office to select other girls!

To add insult to injury, whilst all this was occurring, I discovered on my latest visit to Oksana that Cinderella had been counselling her to stop seeing me because the age gap between us is quite large.  Personally, I would have thought that this was a matter for us to deal with (in fact one we had already discussed at length in order to ensure it was not a problem for either of us).

So, the moral of this little story is to be very careful when placing a local agency in funds.  As to Cinderella, it is clear to me that this agency will do whatever it can to get its hands on your money, even to the extent of putting its greed before the best interests of its clients.  Furthermore, Cinderella offers English lessons on its website as one of the services it can provide.  Don’t bother: make sure your lady goes to a reputable and established language school.

I was taken in because it was comforting to have people around me who spoke English and could help and because I had read all the warnings about not giving money to girls.  In hindsight, I should not have allowed myself to have been duped in this foolish way and if I had given the money to Oksana, knowing her as well as I know her now, not only would it have been in perfectly safe hands but she is the type of person who would go out of her way to obtain maximum value-for-money.  Oksana is a girl with great integrity, a trait she has inherited from her parents and grandparents, all of whom have been charming and incredibly hospitable to me.  The same degree of integrity cannot be said to exist within Cinderella.

Sadly, we all read the warnings about unscrupulous girls who are out to fleece us but there are too few warnings about unscrupulous agencies.  Agencies like Cinderella, who ironically state on their website that they subscribe to anti-scam standards, cause untold damage to other agencies that are responsible and ethical.  The silver lining to this story is that I have met a remarkable girl whose company I thoroughly enjoy.

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