Looking For Love Online Can Lead To Disappointment, 'Sweetheart Swindlers,' BBB Advises

February 10, 2014
hands claspedIf you’re seeking Mr. or Ms. Right by using a local or online dating service, Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises you to be aware of potential scams as well as the limitations of legitimate matchmaking services.

BBB receives complaints about dating services every year. Many complaints are about billing and collection issues. Poor customer service, refund issues, advertising or sales practices also prompted complaints.

Some consumers are swindled by scammers who pose online as an attractive person of the opposite sex.  Some scammers have taken thousands of dollars from victims by requesting money for travel, health care or other fake emergencies. When the scammers are overseas, it’s extremely difficult for law enforcement or other agencies to make arrests or recover victims’ money.

Common matchmaking complaints include:

  • Failure to match clients with singles that met specified criteria: Non-smoking complainants said they were matched with people who smoke, well-educated people were matched with less-educated ones or religious people were matched with atheists or people from other religions. Some were matched with people who 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.
Online Dating Complaints include:

  • Minimum enrollment period: Online dating services normally require a minimum membership period and charge a monthly fee, which is renewed automatically when it expires. Either the customer didn’t realize the steps needed to cancel the account, or the consumer took the necessary steps but billing continued anyway. 
  • Inability to cancel: Consumers said some companies wouldn’t allow them to cancel the contract after being dissatisfied with the company and its process.

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.” BBB’s National Advertising Division required one dating service to stop advertising that its methods were based on “the latest science of attraction.”
  • 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 what you are signing and paying for.
  • 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. Check a BBB Business Review of the service.