LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising residents who are considering looking into ads for online dating services to be cautious. They say consumers need to be aware of the limitations, costs, and terms of services of these sites as well as the potential for fraud if your match turns out to be a thief.
The BBB says it received more than 1,100 complaints about dating services last year, mostly regarding billing and collection issues. Poor customer service, refund issues, advertising, or sales practices were also common complaints. Often, customers complain that it is difficult to cancel the service because it is automatically renewed.
However, law enforcement is also concerned about scams perpetrated through these sites. And the number of scam reports about these dating sites to the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is continuing to grow.
According to the BBB, in 2017 the FTC received 16,940 complaints from people who had been victims of a romance scam. In 2018, there were 22,284 complaints, and in 2019, the number grew to 38,851. The losses reported in these scams exceeded a billion dollars just over the past several years.
The following are usual complaints that the BBB receives regarding these dating sites:
- 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.
- The 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 advertising.
- 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.
With this in mind, the BBB offers the following advice on using 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. Scammers may also ask victims to send money with pre-paid credit cards or gift cards. The woman never makes the trip, and the money can’t be recovered.
And even if you don’t sign up for a dating service the BBB says romance scams through social media and email are quite common.
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. But some of these criminals are overseas, making it difficult for authorities to pursue them or for victims to get their money back.
The BBB says that in their studies the number of victims to these scams tends to rise around Valentine’s Day.