Dating Around
And around and around

1. Falling in Love All Over Again

Tens of millions of people, we are told, are looking for love online.

But if that's true, why are different online dating services using the pictures of the same happy couple?

That's what we at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab started wondering this week, once we saw a pop-up ad for the Tickle online dating service. Tickle, formerly known as Emode, calls itself "the leading interpersonal media company."

It's one of these social-networking outfits that are all the rage these days -- companies, mostly privately held, that help you hook up with friends of friends for business or pleasure. We have no doubt that once Tickle and its competitors go public, we'll be able to lose money in shaky Internet business models all over again, just like in the old days.

Anyway, to illustrate how happy you'll be once you start using Tickle to find the love of your life, the Tickle ad shows a picture of a typically happy Tickle couple lying in the grass and kissing.

Which is great, except for the fact that

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

used exactly the same photo a year ago to illustrate how happy you'd be once you started using Yahoo! personals to find the love of your life.

It's possible that this duplication is simply one more illustration of the hazards companies risk by using stock photos -- that is, pictures not shot specifically for their ad campaign, but sold (and resold) to all comers by a photo agency. (This is a subject near and dear to our hearts, as documented by

our pioneering story about The Internet Guy.)

Or maybe both Yahoo! and Tickle used the same photo because, in fact, these people are the only happy couple in America that has met online. Or maybe there's more than one couple out there, but no one else is sufficiently photogenic.

To clear this up, we at the research lab have decided to conduct further research into this whole online dating scene. Don't tell our spouses.


2. Sonic Bust

Sad to say, Wall Street's capacity to separate investors from their money is infinite.

Like classic drama, all the brokerage ripoff stories are variations on a theme: investor meets broker, investor trusts broker, investor gives broker money, investor never sees money again.

Certainly there are differences in the amount of money at issue, the supporting players in the drama, and the tempting investment at the center of it all. But step back, and all the tales are depressingly similar.

Which is why we at the research lab are suckers for the details. So this week, we're fixating on a complaint filed by Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin against a Boston-based firm called Cantella Securities.

The rough outline of the store is straightforward. In the complaint, Galvin alleges that Cantella improperly allowed two of its registered representatives to market two hedge funds to individual investors. Approximately 41 people, according to the complaint, put a total of $3.5 million into the funds (or about $85,000 apiece).

"It appears that over 60% of the clients of these funds were unsophisticated, nonaccredited investors, many of whom lost their entire retirement savings due to this investment," reads the complaint.

But, ah, the details. The complaint reports that when Cantella's chief, Jim Freeman, was asked why Cantella would let the representatives get into the hedge fund business, he replied, "I mean, in hindsight, stupid move, you know."

Yep. That pretty much sums it all up.

The other noteworthy detail for us was the name of one of the hedge funds: Hercules Hedgehog Fund.

Huh? Hercules Hedgehog? Is that some Saturday morning cartoon character we never heard about? Does this spiky mammal have some mythical investment-related properties we should know of? Freeman didn't respond to our request for comment, and Galvin's spokesman was no help on the matter.

Hercules Hedgehog. Other than the part where people lost their retirement money, the whole thing sounds pretty hilarious to us.

In the Matter of Martha

3. From the Same Folks Who Rated theglobe.com a Strong Buy...

Speaking of straight talk from the securities industry, we're paying close attention to Martha Stewart's fraud trial, which began this week.

We're fascinated by the jury selection process, in which the judge on the case, plus the lawyers on each side, seek to assemble a group of people who can objectively pass judgment on Stewart, the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) .

We're particularly fascinated by this exchange between the judge and a potential juror -- a dialogue we lifted from transcript fragments published in Thursday's

New York Post:


  • Judge: When did your wife leave MSLO?
  • Juror: I believe she was terminated September 1996.
  • Judge: She did not resign?
  • Juror: She was unfairly fired due to a maternity leave problem.
  • Judge: Is there anything about that experience that would affect your ability in this case to reach a fair, impartial verdict?
  • Juror: I truly believe, your Honor, no, it should not affect my outcome.

We are pleased to report that the juror was dismissed. It's tough enough to find people in Manhattan who won't be peeved by Stewart's aura of domestic perfection; why go looking for objectivity among husbands of aggrieved former employees?

We are even more pleased to report some information about the potential juror: He's described as working in the "securities trading business."

That's great. Here's a guy who in one breath can say that his wife was "unfairly terminated" by Stewart's organization, then -- presumably with a straight face -- tell a judge he wouldn't hold it against Stewart. A guy like that has enough rectitude to head the

New York Stock Exchange

. Or maybe he should be selling hedge funds for Cantella.


4. HealthSouth Heads Further South

Every cloud has a silver lining. Even at

HealthSouth

(HLSH)

the hospital-services chain alleged to have engaged in massive fraud under the reign of former CEO Richard Scrushy.

HealthSouth's current management updated investors this week on the scope of the accounting fraud allegedly perpetrated on Scrushy's watch. Instead of $3.5 billion-plus in misstatements that HealthSouth estimated six months ago, the revised estimate is in the range of $3.8 billion to $4.6 billion.

Yes, estimated fraudulent entries rose from $2 billion to $2.5 billion. But acquisition and goodwill-related errors, previously estimated at $1 billion-plus, came in at a mere $500 million.

Thank goodness for small favors.

Please Deposit ...
... this many cents for the next month

5. Don't Ask Us Wireless. That's Just the Way It Is.

Did you ever have the feeling you're being nickel-and-dimed by your phone company? Well, maybe you are.

That's what we decided after listening to the AT&T Wireless (AWE) conference call with analysts Thursday.

During the question-and-answer session, an AT&T executive acknowledged that when people drop their AWE service to take their phone number to another carrier, AWE bills them for a full, final month -- not just the part of that month that the subscriber remains on AWE's network.

Oh, the outrage! We called up the Federal Communications Commission to ask whether such a policy was kosher under the wireless-number portability rules that the FCC put into effect last year.

A spokesman told us there was probably something in the fine print of AWE's billing arrangements that enabled such a policy. That said, he added, "If people think they are getting ripped off, they should file a complaint with the FCC, because we do want to keep track of all the problems that come up."

There you go, folks. A license to whine.

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