Sucker for romance? Match.com used scam dating profiles to trick love seekers, says FTC

He’s just not that into you.

Because he’s not real.

That’s according to the Federal Trade Commission, which announced today that it is suing Match Group, the owner of Match.com, Tinder, OKCupid, PlentyOfFish, and other dating sites, for allegedly using messages from scammy dating profiles to trick hundreds of thousands of people into paying for subscriptions on Match.com.

Anyone can create a profile for free on Match.com, but to read messages from others on the website, a person must be a paid subscriber. The FTC said nonsubscribers got queries from interested singles—sometimes messages from accounts the website believed belonged to scammers—which would then often prompt them to pay for the service.

“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,” the FTC said.

According to the agency, more than half the instant messages and favorites in some months between 2013 and 2016 were from bogus accounts. Between June 2016 and May 2018, for example, close to half a million subscriptions were purchased within 24 hours of a free user getting a scammy message.

“Fraud isn’t good for business,” Match said in a statement. “That’s why we fight it. We catch and neutralize 85% of potentially improper accounts in the first four hours, typically before they are even active on the site, and 96% of improper accounts within a day.”

The FTC also is accusing the Dallas-based online dating company of exposing consumers to the risk of fraud and running a deceptive “guarantee” program, which led paid subscribers to believe they’d get a six-month subscription free if they didn’t meet someone, but they actually needed to meet several requirements to get the deal, among other charges.

Match said it is fighting the allegations.

“For nearly 25 years, Match.com has been focused on helping people find love and fighting the criminals that try to take advantage of users,” the company said. “We’ve developed industry leading tools and AI that block 96% of bots and fake accounts from our site within a day and are relentless in our pursuit to rid our site of these malicious accounts. The FTC has misrepresented internal emails and relied on cherry-picked data to make outrageous claims and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against these claims in court.”

Online dating sites are a big business. An often-quoted 2016 national survey by the Pew Research Center found that 15% of U.S. adults have used them or mobile dating apps, though that figure is believed to have grown in the interim three years.

The price per month for these services differs greatly by site; a handful are free, while others cost as much as $60, depending on how many months you sign up for in advance. Some are for the general population, and many cater to specific niches, ranging from religion and occupation to hobby and political philosophy.

Earlier this month, Facebook got into the field with the launch of Facebook Dating.

The flip side of this online hunt for love is romance scammers, who prey on lonely hearts—specifically, their wallets. The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel got more than 21,000 reports about romance scams, which cost victims $143 million, more than any other fraud type the Sentinel tracks. These love cons are on the rise; in 2015, there were 8,500 Sentinel reports with a total of $33 million lost.

 

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