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FTC sues owner of online dating service Match.com for trick to get consumers into paying

Christian Fernsby |
The Federal Trade Commission sued online dating service Match Group, Inc. (Match), the owner of Match.com, Tinder, OKCupid, PlentyOfFish, and other dating sites, alleging that the company used fake love interest advertisements to trick hundreds of thousands of consumers into purchasing paid subscriptions on Match.com.

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Topics: FTC    MATCH    DATING   

The agency also alleges that Match has unfairly exposed consumers to the risk of fraud and engaged in other allegedly deceptive and unfair practices.

For instance, the FTC alleges Match offered false promises of “guarantees,” failed to provide services to consumers who unsuccessfully disputed charges, and made it difficult for users to cancel their subscriptions.

Match allows users to create Match.com profiles free of charge, but prohibits users from responding to messages without upgrading to a paid subscription.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Match sent emails to nonsubscribers stating that someone had expressed an interest in that consumer.

Specifically, when nonsubscribers with free accounts received likes, favorites, emails, and instant messages on Match.com, they also received emailed ads from Match encouraging them to subscribe to Match.com to view the identity of the sender and the content of the communication.

The FTC alleges that millions of contacts that generated Match’s “You caught his eye” notices came from accounts the company had already flagged as likely to be fraudulent.

By contrast, Match prevented existing subscribers from receiving email communications from a suspected fraudulent account.

Many consumers purchased subscriptions because of these deceptive ads, hoping to meet a real user who might be “the one.” The FTC alleges that instead, these consumers often would have found a scammer on the other end.

According to the FTC’s complaint, consumers came into contact with the scammer if they subscribed before Match completed its fraud review process.

If Match completed its review process and deleted the account as fraudulent before the consumer subscribed, the consumer received a notification that the profile was “unavailable.” In either event, the consumer was left with a paid subscription to Match.com, as a result of a false advertisement.

Consumers who considered purchasing a Match.com subscription generally were unaware that as many as 25 to 30 percent of Match.com members who register each day are using Match.com to attempt to perpetrate scams, including romance scams, phishing schemes, fraudulent advertising, and extortion scams.

In some months between 2013 and 2016, more than half of the instant messages and favorites that consumers received came from accounts that Match identified as fraudulent, according to the complaint.

Hundreds of thousands of consumers subscribed to Match.com shortly after receiving communications from fake profiles.

According to the FTC’s complaint, from June 2016 to May 2018, for example, Match’s own analysis found that consumers purchased 499,691 subscriptions within 24 hours of receiving an advertisement touting a fraudulent communication.

Online dating services, including Match.com, often are used to find and contact potential romance scam victims.

Fraudsters create fake profiles, establish trusting relationships, and then trick consumers into giving or loaning them money.

Just last year, romance scams ranked number one on the FTC’s list of total reported losses to fraud.

The Commission’s Consumer Sentinel complaint database received more than 21,000 reports about romance scams, and people reported losing a total of $143 million in 2018.


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