Thursday, April 24, 2014
 

Bad romance: Online dating complaints made to the FTC

FTC records tell of broken promises, broken hearts

FOI Requests:

Finding the perfect dating website can be as difficult as searching for love itself. They vary so greatly in size, purpose, personality, and price that it’s hard to know which is the right one for you.

However, complaints filed against OKCupid, Match.com, and eHarmony with the Federal Trade Commission should make the search for that one true, er, dating website a little easier.

MuckRock’s request to the FTC yielded 2056 complaints about Match since 2005, 301 complaints about eHarmony since 2007, and seven complaints about OKCupid since 2008. The FTC has not verified all of the complaints.

About half of all claims involve allegations of what the FTC calls “romance scams,” in which online con artists swindled hundreds or thousands of dollars from naive lonelyhearts. In some cases, scammers sent flowers or a fruit basket as a sign of affection before asking for help paying for a flight to the United States or a cancer-stricken family member’s medical bills. However, one hustler, perhaps recalling the old adage that “the way to a man's heart is through his stomach,” sent one Match.com customer “wings from Papa Johns,” according to one complaint. Most of the romance scammers were reportedly from Nigeria.

Some alleged victims of romance scams criticized the dating websites for doing little to weed out con artists or failing to shut down their accounts after they are reported to the company. One customer wrote, “I contacted eHarmony to let them know [of a scammer], received an answer requesting information and when I answered with all the details, they [g]ave an automated response that they are not taking any more inquiries.”

 

All of the websites also received complaints about users’ photos being employed in unwanted ways, either by the company or by other users. One eHarmony customer said, “I discontinued my eHarmony membership approximately one year ago. eHarmony is continuing to use my photos and personal information by continuing to send it to current [and] prospective members repeatedly, who then try to contact me via their website.”

 

An OKCupid member reported that a malicious correspondent “admits to collecting other user’s [sic] photos and degrading them by drawing profanity on them and posting the altered photo’s in his [blog] for all to see and abuse.”

 

Users of all three sites also grumbled about poor customer service, citing difficulty finding a phone number for a live representative and complaint emails being answered by a form letter or not at all.

 

eHarmony

 

Of the three dating websites, eHarmony has the steepest rates, with a monthly membership starting at about $60 per month. Customers filing complaints with the FTC charge the formula-driven matchmaking website with employing some creative tactics to continue raking in those fees, as well as boosting profits through less-than-trustworthy means.

 

Users seemed particularly unhappy with eHarmony’s billing practices. Many former customers complained to the FTC that they were enrolled in automatic renewal without their knowledge and against their wishes, and that eHarmony refused to issue a refund or would only so for a partial amount when they disputed the charges. One alleged, “There was no way I could change the ‘automatic’ renewal, including my attempt to remove my credit card number from ‘my accounts.’”

 

One former member summed up the feelings of many others by writing, “eHarmony is easy to join, but almost impossible to get free of. … They lure persons in (as they did me with the free offer), then the service drops off to nothing. And it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get eHarmony to stop billing you after you have told them you wish to discontinue service.”

 

Even after canceling their accounts, former eHarmony customers were dogged by spam from the company. One complainant wrote, “I have tried for 4+years to get them to leave me alone and unsubscribed at least 50 times. … It is painful to be harassed.”

 

Perhaps more egregiously, some complaints accuse eHarmony of selling former users’ e-mail addresses to other companies. One ex-customer wrote, “I opted out of all communications with the company and went through the process of deleting my account. A few months later, I began getting SPAM emails from other companies, which were being sent to the unique email that I used to sign up for eHarmony. It seems that they sold, shared or somehow released my personal contact information when I cancelled. (I now have nearly 100 emails from other companies which were sent to this unique address). … There is no unsubscribe information on the emails and even a ‘do not reply to this address’ statement at the bottom of the email.”

 

Match.com

 

Customers of Match, who pay the company $35 per month, notified the FTC of similar obstacles to canceling their automated payments and getting refunds, as well as of problems with solicitation inundation after closing their accounts.

 

Several complainants also claimed that their credit cards were charged by Match.com even though they had never signed up for the website’s services. One wrote, “This company, Match.com, of which i never have even logged onto before, charged my debit card 52.10. I dont know how they got my info.”

 

OKCupid

 

Despite being the most popular online dating website, with 3.5 million active users as of September 2010 according to company figures, OKCupid received very few complaints – probably because, unlike eHarmony and Match.com, the site is free to most users. Avid daters struck often by Cupid’s bow can opt for a premium account with extra options, a feature available since August 2009, but no complaints were received about its billing practices.

 

While the FTC documents contain plenty of legitimate grievances, some users used the agency’s complaint system as a forum in which to vent about their romantic frustrations. One eHarmony user wrote, “Out of thousands of lesbians across the United States nobody sent me a hello or wonk [sic]. I want my money refunded.”

 

A more altruistic soul wrote on behalf of his townspeople, saying, “I am continually annoyed to find advertised on yahoo, 'match.com,' displaying photos of beautiful young ladies who are claimed to live in my small town. They do not, and while I am not susceptible to such shoddy business practices, I fear that many of my lonely neighbors are. Please ask 'match.com' to specify that these models are not actually residents of Cabot Arkansas.”

Photo illustration courtesy of the FBI

File a Freedom of Information request through MuckRock today for just $20 for 5 requests and help make our democracy more transparent, open and accountable. Contact MuckRock at info@muckrock.com and follow us on Twitter at @MuckRockNews.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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