Success stories in ads for online dating services can make it sound like true love is just a click away. Meeting people online may sound easy and safe, but consumers need to keep their guard up to avoid being swindled, hurt or worse.
Better Business Bureau receives thousands of complaints about dating services every year. Many concern billing and collection issues. Poor customer service, refund issues, advertising or sales practices also prompt complaints. Often, customers complain that it is difficult to cancel the service because it is automatically renewed.
Even if you don’t sign up for a dating service, romance scams through social media and email are quite common. Law enforcement and other agencies get thousands of complaints every year from people who have lost money through online dating or social media or email connections. Criminals posing as potential romantic “matches” may lead victims on for a while, then suddenly claim they’ve got big medical bills or some other emergency need for money. Some criminals are overseas, making it difficult for authorities to pursue them or for victims to get their money back. BBB published an in-depth investigative study on these romance scams in 2018, as well as a follow-up study in 2019 about the potential for romance scam victims to be used as money mules.
Consumers need to make sure they understand what they are signing up for when they use an online dating service. Read any contracts, terms or conditions carefully to understand how you will be charged and what you need to do to cancel. Some consumers complained that they signed up for a free trial, but their credit cards were charged before they could cancel.
Common complaints about dating services include:
• Failure to match clients with compatible singles. Complaints included non-smokers matched with people who smoke; well-educated people matched with less-educated ones; religious people matched with atheists; or matches that lived too far away or were married.
• Use of intimidating or duplicitous sales tactics. Complainants reported being yelled at, being told to not be so picky or being completely ignored by the companies involved.
• Failure to deliver. Complainants were told the service had a database of thousands of singles, but they didn’t receive the promised number of dates or introductions. Others said a singles club sponsored events to bring singles together, but the events didn’t live up to their billing.
• Minimum enrollment period and inability to cancel. Online dating services normally require a minimum membership period and charge a monthly fee. Contracts often are renewed automatically. Either the customer didn’t realize the steps needed to cancel the account, or the consumer took the necessary steps but billing continued anyway.
BBB offers the following advice on matchmaking and online dating services:
• Don’t fall in love with the advertising. Be skeptical of claims such as “an exclusive network of people,” “for sincere daters only” or “beautiful singles just like you.”
• Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Sales associates may tell you that a low price is only good for that day and ask you to sign a contract immediately. You should read the contract carefully and make sure you understand it.
• Know how to break up. Consumers should not assume that they will stop being billed once the contract runs out. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships. Usually you must call the company or send written instructions to avoid being billed again. Read cancellation policies before you sign up.
• Beware of demands by a match to send money. Some scams that match men with foreign women typically include a request to send money to pay for a trip to the United States, using a wire transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union. The woman never makes the trip, and the money can’t be recovered.
• Do your homework. Ask to speak to other members or customers of the service about their experiences.
Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.