"Everyone has a price. What's yours?"
That's the slogan of WhatsYourPrice.com, a website where people who classify themselves as "generous" - those willing to pay dollars for a date - can access profiles of so-called "attractive" people, individuals interested in being paid to go on a date.
It also appears to be the motto of hundreds of New Hampshire residents - the vast majority of them women - who have set up accounts at the site seeking money to meet others. Domestic and sexual violence experts say participating in sites like this can open the door to dangerous situations.
"As with any relatively anonymous social-networking forum, the possibility of abuse exists," said Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "The additional component of paying for social interactions increases the likelihood of predatory behavior. We know that dangerous opportunists hide behind keyboards and screens, and there is no true way to verify whether or not someone is capable of violence."
After a user of the site completes a profile, the company approves it, and the user is free to view profiles and photos of others. Once a participant finds someone they would like to date, they "ask them out" by making an offer. "Generous users" name the price they are willing to pay for the first date, while "attractive users" name their cost for a night on the town. A negotiating system built into the website allows participants to accept an offer, reject an offer, or make a counterproposal with a different price. Communications between parties, through email, are known as "winks."
The site also lists rules about paying for the date. The "generous" one covers the "attractive" one's dating fee in two installments - half at the start of the date and half at the end, and in cash only.
The website operates like an Internet auction or trade site, and once the terms of the date are agreed upon, both parties are "on their own," according to Leroy Velasquez of InfoStream Group Inc., a firm that handles public relations for WhatsYourPrice.com.
The site's founder, Brandon Wade, an MIT graduate, said there is no link between his site and prostitution.
"We really try to frame the entire process very clearly - you're paying for the opportunity of a first date - it's a chance to allow somebody to like you more than just from an online profile or picture," he said.
Wade said the site spells out what is acceptable to post or ask for and what is not, and those who violate the terms could be taken to court.
The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office declined to offer an opinion on the legality of the website or whether the dates it promotes resemble examples of prostitution.
Calls to Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance seeking a similar opinion were not returned.
A search turned up 216 profiles from individuals based in New Hampshire. Requests for interviews, not dates, sent to several New Hampshire women with profiles at the site were not answered.
The site promotes itself as a way for college students to earn money to pay for course books.
"Utilizing first-date auctions are much more efficient than a summer job," said Wade. "Instead of working 25 hours for $200, students earn the same amount in one to two dates. If you're broke and single, why not kill two birds with one stone by dating-for-dollars?"
According to Velasquez, WhatsYourPrice.com experienced 5,942 total student sign-ups in August, with 674 hailing from the Boston region.
He said there are currently 28 New Hampshire students signed up to date for a fee, based in the following locations: Concord (8 students), Lebanon (5), Nashua (4), Boscawen (3), Durham (3), Lyme (3), and one student in Auburn and New London.
Velasquez declined to supply names or contact information for the students.
While there is no specific information that students at the University of New Hampshire participate in the site, the fact that three college students list Durham as their home turf concerns school officials.
"We are disappointed that this website is targeting college-aged students and encouraging them to pay for dates," said Erika Mantz, director of public relations for UNH.
"We regularly encourage and educate our students to be safe and smart online and hope that any student who chooses to participate does so with a clear understanding of what they are committing to by signing up. We also remind students that any suspicious behavior should be brought to the attention of the UNH Police Department."