Success stories in advertisements for online dating services can make true love seem just a click away. Meeting people online may seem easy and safe, but consumers need to be on their toes to avoid being scammed, hurt, or worse.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) receives thousands of complaints about dating services each year. Many relate to billing and collection issues. Poor customer service, refund issues, advertisements, 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 via social media and email are quite common. Law enforcement and other agencies receive thousands of complaints each year from people who have lost money through online dating, social media, or email hookups. Criminals posing as potential romantic “partners” may lead their victims for a while, then suddenly pretend they have big medical bills or other urgent money needs. Some criminals are located overseas, making it difficult for authorities to prosecute them or for victims to recover their money. BBB published a detailed report investigative study on these romance scams in 2018, as well as a Follow-up study in 2019 about the potential for victims of romance scams to be used as financial mules.
Consumers should make sure they understand what they are signing up for when using an online dating service. Read all contracts, terms or conditions carefully to understand how you will be charged and what you need to do to cancel. Some consumers have 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:
- Failed to match clients with compatible singles. Complaints included non-smokers matched with smokers; well-educated people paired with less-educated people; religious paired with atheists; or matches who lived too far away or were married.
- Use of intimidating or deceptive sales tactics: Complainants said they were yelled at, told not to be so picky or completely ignored by the companies involved.
- Non-delivery: The complainants were told that the service had a database of thousands of singles, but they did not 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 registration period and inability to cancel: Online dating services normally require a minimum membership period and charge a monthly fee. Contracts are often automatically renewed. Either the customer did not take the necessary steps to cancel the account, or the consumer took the necessary steps but the billing still continued.
BBB offers the following advice on online matchmaking and dating services:
- Don’t fall in love with advertising. Beware of claims such as “an exclusive network of people”, “only for sincere singles”, or “beautiful singles like you”.
- Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Sellers 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. Consumers should not assume that they will stop being billed once the contract expires. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships. Usually you have to call the company or send written instructions to avoid being charged again. Read the cancellation policies before registering.
- Beware of requests by a match to send money. Some scams that pair foreign 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 wife never makes the trip and the money cannot be recovered.
- Do your homework. Ask to speak to other members or customers of the service about their experiences.